State of Hallucination
“With the second coming of shoegaze now in full swing,” quips Colin Brennan in a Consequence of Sound article discussing Freaks of Nurture, Austin-born Holy Wave’s latest album, “so many bands are being described as “dreamy” that you’d think critics are literally falling asleep at the wheel.”
Okay, ouch. Touché. But still, ouch. You could have even gone a step further with that shoegaze/car metaphor and made a Swervedriver joke. Seriously though, it would be a lot easier to think of new descriptors if so many of these fucking bands didn’t all sound the same. It’s not even limited to bands that actually influenced by shoegazers like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine – it’s psychedelic pop in general. There’s Beach House, Beach Slang, Best Coast, Creepoid, A Place To Bury Strangers, Beech Creeps, Destroyer, who all produce something along the lines of dream pop with vastly varying degrees of grit and aggression.
Psychedelic sounds filtered through the lens of modern indie rock are certainly going to rely most heavily on the early, garage-ier days of the 1960’s movement, before it had wholly evolved away from the bustling sounds of surf rock – that’s what makes this particular genre revival feel refreshing. Artists like Kevin Parker of Tame Impala take the holistic “Strawberry Fields Forever” approach to psychedelia by shying away from what little theatrics and frills that genre has (like wild, meandering Grateful Dead guitar or the powerful, bluesy vocal delivery of Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison) and also having a voice that sounds impeccably like John Lennon’s. The end result often feels like a single, big soft acid trip as opposed to a hectic fever dream like Electric Ladyland.
So it is with Freaks of Nurture opener “She Put a Seed in My Ear.” The bleary psych pop operates at a predictable level of haziness, but still feels somewhat jaunty and lucid. A litany of other musical moments that seem like contradictions follow: With its over-the-top filtered vocals, “Wendy Go Round” is definitely cheesy, but still sounds kind of creepy and sinister, like if The Dead Weather pulled back the drapes shielding the summer light from bleeding into the foyer upholstery of their haunted mansion.
Holy Wave seem caught in the exact middle of the dream/psych pop spectrum. On one side is the idealized past: the barreling tom rhythms and unrelenting ride cymbal of surf rock, best represented by the cross between The Cramps and Pet Sounds periodically spewed forth by the misanthropic surfer dude behind Wavves. “You Should Lie” has all the trimmings, but the tune’s edge never quite sharpens to the satisfying point that Wavves so excels at giving us, despite the group’s convincing conjuration of an aquatic vortex of guitar and organ noise.
On the other side, in the condensed levels and thick, warm synthesizers of “Western Playland,” lies the glorious future. Still though, even during Holy Wave’s forward-thinking tracks, the Texans’ apple has fallen a bit closer to The Byrds’ tree in comparison with Parker’s innovative work. “Air Wolf” has some hard-driving, anthemic moments that have a bit of Born To Run-style magical (if a bit melodramatic) grandiosity to them. But even though Holy Wave’s songs are garage-y, there’s no grating electric texture or feedback that marked the sound of fellow Austinians 13th Floor Elevators or Electric Prunes. In fact, for most of the record it’s hard to tell the difference between synthesizers and washed out, chorus pedal-modulated guitar.
Going for a wholly niche appeal is usually a safe bet – there’s a built-in audience for any genre you can already name and attach characteristics to. But isn’t making an excellent copy of something that already exists kind of a hollow artistic victory? Can following a blueprint this closely really be that fulfilling? Its like, “Good job making a lo-fi black metal album, lord knows we need another magnum opus of blast beats that sounds like it was recorded on a phone.” “Congrats on your new mixtape and its severe hard-on for early 90’s g-funk production. That’s always a fresh new sound, can never have enough of that.” Holy Waves does one thing very, very well for forty minutes. Maybe that’s all we should ask for.