Wallows faces the heartache of an independent boy in “Tell Me It’s Over”
In the early 2000s, the emergence of indie alternative rock was sparked by bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes. The playing rules were simple: guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and a singing, often masculine, guttural voice. Sing about heartbreak, new love, or something slightly controversial. Play sold out shows. Sell cool t-shirts.
But since the birth of this genre in America more than 20 years ago, we now observe a very different musical landscape. Genres from Katy Perry-pop to Chainsmokers-EDM have faded. How have alternative rock bands been able to stay relevant or even successful?
Enter Wallows. The trio, which formed in 2011 and began releasing music in 2017, is leading the genre into a new world of music streaming. And with the release of their studio-breaking second album, Tell Me It’s Over, the band said they’re here to stay.
“Tell Me It’s Over” is a tear through the hexagonal sunglasses of an independent boy. The theme of the album is simple: We are young; we fall in and out of love; are we missing something bigger that we should explore alone? It’s early 20s romantic existentialism in a pair of Converse sneakers.
The first thing to note is their ability to retain the fundamental elements of their alt-rock predecessors while using modern music technology to keep their sound fresh. Intro track “Hard To Believe” juxtaposes crisp guitar breaks with ethereal basses and chiming trills to symbolize the laid-back chaos of heartbreak. On a first listen, it’s impossible to know exactly where the song goes next sonically – it kicks everything off with a frisson of anticipation.
It certainly sets the tone for the rest of the album, which builds on similar elements to demonstrate innovation in their sound. “I Don’t Want to Talk”, the first single released before the album, defines several stages throughout the track by adding constant sonic variance from verse to verse – arpeggiated synths, drum noises reversed, even a harmonica. Still, it makes you feel like a 90s teenager jumping around your room. “Missing Out” is a soulful, rock-heavy guitar anthem about losing love (think last hug before breaking up). However, it is able to evoke emotion through an ethereal buildup in the post-chorus – another example of a successful marriage between classical and modern styles.
Others stray further from the classic indie alt sound. The second single and third track “Especially You” are boxy, abstract and colorful. Its sonic layers, in all their crisp, synthetic glory, are almost custom-made to fit the grooves of your brain. With computer glitch noises and vocal melodies reminiscent of playground mockery, it’s a nostalgic, easy listen. Third single “At the End of the Day” sounds like an 80s slow dance anthem, layering bouncy synths with ringtone-like guitar picks that build into a rousing chorus. “Marvelous” throws you into a fleeting thought of nostalgia against the backdrop of a bustling crowd, boasting fast-paced melodies and even trumpeters near the end of the song.
Topically, the album becomes a bit repetitive and cliché. The “I can’t get you out of my head” and “You pushed me away” can sometimes feel like an independent boy is whining. Additionally, it remains overwhelmingly clear that Wallows’ strengths do not lie in vocal prowess, as the majority of their melodies stay within a safe vocal zone. And, Lydia Night’s vocals on “Permanent Price” add a bubbly refresh to the album, but it stands out slightly from previous collaborations with female vocals (Remi Wolf on “OK” or Clairo on “Are You Bored Yet? “).
But where Wallows excels is his ability to successfully combine classic elements of alternative rock with modern music technology to create a unique and immersive atmosphere in his music. Especially in the album’s final track, “Guitar Romantic Search Adventure,” the dreamy instrumental breaks really feel like you’re soaring in the sunset pink clouds of post-breakup optimism. Each song stands on its own and somehow blends together to create the universe of “Tell Me It’s Over:” twinkling stars, scuffed painted sneakers, the windows of an old Toyota Camry opening, the music go all out with your friends while overlooking a sparkling city.
Showcasing their promising ability to innovate and build the world in “Tell Me It’s Over,” it’s obvious that Wallows are just getting started.