Queens quartet WIVES debut with So Removed, a sharp slice of New York garage rock that, while imperfect, still does their home burrough proud.
Think of WIVES as Parquet Courts without the anger. If one word could be used to describe the mood it would be laconic. Frontman Jay Beach’s delivery is lovably droll throughout, and his words make sure to match. WIVES aren’t particularly political, instead crafting urban poetry equal parts existential dread and detached cool. It has its pros and cons. On the one hand Beach’s one-liners are very quotable. From The 20 Teams: “Some records are so twisted/ That they actually happen/ And some people are so gifted/ That they live in Manhattan”. The album closer The Future is a Drag reads like a mission statement: “Too busy being born/ Too busy dying… The future is a drag and we blew it just for kicks”. Unfortunately the lyrics aren’t consistently great, nor does the band have particularly much to say. For example, slow dirge Even The Dead is vapid, a series of pessimisms tethered by a mood and little else. You sometimes feel WIVES are more interested in recalling the famed ‘gritty New York’ aesthetic above all else, more academic than heartfelt.
Such an approach takes smarts however, and WIVES certainly gave this collection of tunes some thought. The band’s songwriting diversity and ear for hooks are the album’s key drawcards. Opener Waving Past Nirvana is a droning garage gem with a memorable drawled chorus. The 20 Teens pairs glam rock piano-line verses with a chant-along pop-punk chorus. Why is Life chugs convincingly on a mean lingering guitar riff and a harsh, impassioned chorus that would’ve done Sonic Youth proud. Sold Out Seatz boasts a great chorus and some killer guitar arpeggios, and closer The Future is a Drag is a drugged-out ballad that makes detachment feel like a great proposition.
Unfortunately there are a few occasions where the tunes aren’t up to snuff, which lays the band’s lyrical faults bare. They’re not as impassioned as IDLES, nor as witty as Parquet Courts. An early three-song skid dampens the album, songs that are one half detachment, one half Sonic Youth motorik chug, and little else. Servants is an unmemorable post punk slab, Hit Me Up squanders its powerful riff on a derivative rocker, and Whatevr is a throwaway true to its name. Hideaway lies somewhere in between. It’s musically lazy, a Whatevr part two, but at the same time it’s saved by its memorable tongue-in-cheek refrain: “Doing all the cocaine in the world”.
Overall this is a wide-eyed debut with some great ideas. It’s a tad inconsistent, but its highlights rank among 2019’s best punk efforts. Keep an ear out, as WIVES are bound to only get leaner and meaner over time.