Wave Machines - Wave If You're Really There
Alex Cocks 24/08/2009
2009 has been characterised in its musical output by a rejection of homogenised, male guitar music. Electropop has become an increasingly important and privileged genre, but one that has its own rules and conventions that few choose to bend. For some genre is an article of faith. Not so Liverpool's Wave Machines. With their background in art collectives and interest in reclaimed instruments (ie obsolete, broken and toy instrumentation) they set out the songs as high-concept conceits.
Electronic and dance music has always possessed a sense of otherness, and Wave Machines capture this sensation intermittently. My initial appraisal of Wave If You're Really There is that it is an album by a band divided in their sense of purpose. They seem unsure whether they want to be a traditional 'indie' band replete with live instrumentation and 4/4 time signatures or a far more rhythmic, sequenced, danceable and electronic affair. I'm not sure that at the end of the album they, or I, or you will have a definitive idea either.
The album starts with the minimal electronica of 'You Say The Stupidest Things', a lovelorn paean and the considered and infectious 'Carry Me Back To My Home'. Vocalist Tim Bruzon's lyrical witticisms and unconventional delivery mark out these early tracks.
But after this downtempo and somnabulant start the album is polarised by the electro songs such as 'I Go I Go I Go' and 'The Greatest Escape'. These are perfectly serviceable as homages to Heaven 17 or early Depeche Mode, and as long as they are viewed as kitsch they can be enjoyed. We've all read/watched American Psycho, and they are treading the line at times.
It's when they move into late era Orange Juice territory and when they step outside of the naturally limiting boundaries demarcated by the two genres they have chosen to work in that Wave Machines find greater success. The title track combines the two disciplines to a better extent, while the organic throb and hum of closing track 'Dead Houses' captures the reflectivity of the lyrical imagery perfectly. The falsetto of 'I Joined A Union' sounds painful, but the blissful euphoria of the track offsets the wilfully oddball (and bold) vocal style.
But it is 'Keep The Lights On' that is the standout track here. The air of resignation is tangible as evidenced in the tired synths and syncopated drums, a sense of drama and tension beneath those quiescent and subdued vocals. Then out of nowhere 'Punk Spirit' arrives with its trad chord sequences, washes of piano and Bruzon mournfully lamenting the loss of his “punk spirit. It is a fine song, but desperately out of character with the surrounding material. It isn't always a bad thing that an album sounds like a mix tape, but going from Arab Strap to the Pet Shop Boys is a leap of faith too far.
Overall then: an album of glossy instantaneous delights, strange sequencing and eclecticisms that promises much for the future.