A fork in the road
English Indie sensation Circa Waves have returned with their third studio album, What’s It Like Over There? Much ado has been made by fans and critics about how this record lacks the youthful, energetic exuberance of the band’s prior releases, 2015’s Young Chasers in particular. And while there may be some truth in this criticism, to categorically denounce What’s It Like Over There? as the perilous demise of yet another crash-and-burn indie band is overly harsh. The album slogs at times, but it also flashes moments of brilliance reminiscent of the band’s best efforts.
The album opens with the title track, a 20 second-or-so track of indiscernible white noise. The album then begins in earnest, with “Sorry I’m Yours” followed by “Times Won’t Change.” These two are rather forgettable and are overshadowed by the following track “Movies.” The cut-time chorus of “Sorry I’m Yours” is fairly catchy, but it is also indicative of the decidedly pop-oriented turn the band has taken relative to their previous releases. However, the chord progression during the track’s bridge is lush, warm and beautiful.
The aforementioned “Movies” is one such flash of Circa Waves’ better days. The Strokes-inspired riff is undeniably catchy, in spite of a poppy chorus that hardcore fans may lament. Still, it’s not hard to imagine this track showing up in countless “Summer Jamz 2k19” playlists on Spotify.
Whatever positive momentum was generated by “Movies” is halted dead in its tracks by “Me, Myself, and Hollywood,” one of the album’s worst tracks. It’s a slow, slogging tune that drags—a far cry from the energetic tunes Circa Waves are known for.
But the helter-skelter pacing of What’s It Like Over Thee? continues, as its followed by “The Way We Say Goodbye,” arguably the album’s best song. It’s a raw, vulnerable and emotive track that builds to an emotional climax—the album’s high water mark. The beautiful, triumphant instrumentation juxtaposed against somber lyrics gives this song an indelible bitter-sweetness. Though they often miss the mark, this track is proof-of-concept that Circa Waves have the chops to expand their sound beyond festival bangers and step outside of the box that brought them to stardom.
The other best example of this is “Passport,” a song that trades blazing riffs and pulsing percussion for a ballad-style tune spearheaded by the piano as the lead instrument. Vocalist Kieran Shudall delivers a strong performance throughout, but this singer-songwriter context suits his voice particularly well.
But for every “The Way We Say Goodbye” or “Passport,” there are generic, forgettable tunes like “Motorcade” and “Be Somebody Good.” The end result is one that, coming from one of the biggest rising names in indie, will be surely perceived as a massive disappointment. But it would be wrong to ignore the album’s high points. Despite its flaws, What’s It Like Over There? shows flashes of how Circa Waves could evolve and develop their sound.
Now the band comes to a fork in the road. Will they fall victim to the three-album-and-fall-off-the-cliff cycle that seems to pervade indie rock music, or can they pick up the worthwhile pieces of What’s It Like Over There? and make something better? Only their fourth album will give us the answer.