Wavelets – Athaletics
Record Label: Tiny Engines Records
Release Date: November 1, 2011
What makes a record like Athaletics so instantly arresting doesn’t really have anything to do with music. Or I guess it does, but that’s a given. (Just hush.) It’s more about how these songs make you think about what this life actually puts us through. It’s about what it means to walk around in 2011 while pretending to be a fulfilled human being. Whatever that means. In the case of someone like Wavelets lead singer Steven Gray (who’s strained, high-pitched vocals you will recognize from his faster, punk-ier side project Dikembe), being alive right now just means trying to stay alive. On “We’re Really Jazzed About The Gig,” we hear the lines “Everything wrong is our fault / When will we stop fucking everything up?” Who knows, and I don’t believe that Gray or his Wavelets bros actually even care. Because right after those lines, over and over Gray screams, “Turns out you’re right!” It’s done so in a way that might be a concession, but also in such a way that makes the realization a moot point - Wavelets have already moved on, ready and willing to orchestrate their next big glorious fuck-up.
With 9 songs clocking in at barely 23 minutes, Athaletics is some sort of lesson in emotional economy. Its free-wheeling Midwestern emo and (sue me) stoner mentality could easily get out of hand. But Gray uses his words so efficiently that, despite most songs barely having a verse or chorus, they feel much richer. Using gang vocals on tracks like “My Dad The Manatee” or the at-times slow moving closer “Cannonball” give great weight to these seemingly simple observations. It makes everything sound really important and, you know, in-tune, dude.
But even as I write that, I shake my head. I do that whenever I try to dissect something that could care less about going under the knife. On “Cam Taylor Is So American Kushball,” wonderfully abstract guitar noodles barely connect with Gray over lines like, “In case you forget / I miss you to death,” and “Do you wish you never met me?” What am I supposed to say about that? That's just what these guys are feeling at this moment in time. In a couple years, maybe these words won’t pack the same punch for Gray. Maybe he’ll hate this song. Right now, though, it’s clearly something him and the dudes had to get out. That, to me, is always going to be the most powerful thing an album can do. It can release you.
So even though it is definitely unfair and shortsighted of me to spend all of this time (and all of my recent reviews) doing this dumb, What Does It All Mean shtick, it does mean something. All of it does. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (and, apparently, a cliché machine), this is just something we’ll have to figure out on our own. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are still bands like Wavelets and Dads and Brave Birds to travel alongside. It’s like a little club of smelly dudes trying to figure it all out. A punk rock Mensa or something. And if that sounds dumb, sorry. But I don’t think it hurts to always remember that the learning only stops when we do.
Recommended If You Like: Dads, Weatherbox, Brave Birds, Dikembe