May 5th, 2011
Self-help might help when it makes us laugh
So I’ve barely spent a week with this album, but I felt like talking about it and I managed my de facto standard of 10 listens in that short amount of time anyways.
I knew nothing about the Wombats, but a brief description of their music as a high-energy no-frills indie rock outfit caught my eye. This Modern Glitch is the band’s sophomore album, and they deserve praise for avoiding the dreaded ‘slump’. The caveat there is I haven’t heard their debut, I just know that I like this present record, so maybe take that assessment with a grain of salt.
Right out of the gate, ‘Our Perfect Disease‘ is one of the biggest, best opening tracks I’ve hear this year (with the Strokes’ ‘Machu Picchu’ offering the strongest competition in my opinion); they waste no time getting right to the punching guitar riffs and the “oooooh-oooooh” backing vocals which create an infectious (ha) vibe that you won’t be able to shake. Maybe it’s just because I can empathize with such a notion, but I liked especially the lyrical content, too.
[ mp3 ♫ ]
Which gets to an interesting point about the Wombats. They are actually one of the most impressive examples of a band that makes deft use humor while avoiding become a Tenacious-D-esque parody of themselves. Most tracks are glib while still having substance, which is a more impressive feat than it perhaps sounds. I worry that my analysis of their work takes them more seriously than they take themselves!
‘Tokyo(Vampires & Wolves)’ moves faster and smoother while still riffing on a similar idea from the preceding track. The next three songs are maybe the weakest of the record, only in that they stray slightly from the fast-and-snarky style/content matchup of the impressive opening pair. They work well in the context of the album, but just aren’t highlights.
Tracks 6-9 are my favorite though. Each one is a gem of indie pop, basic, driving rhythm with catchy melodies dusted lightly with synth, all of which frame vocals that draw you in, make you laugh, and for this set of tracks, make you think. ‘Techno Fan’ sets it up, an honest, unpretentious screw-it-let’s-dance number. Following it is ’1996′, from which the record draws its title.
Here’s where I don’t know how to proceed. ’1996′ is a nostalgic plea for a return to simpler times, for sure. What I can’t figure out is: is it meant to be ironic, and the joke is basically “how could anyone want to go back to such an awful time?” Or is the point more subtle, essentially claiming that any decade seems like the best of times if you’re sufficiently young and naive? Both seem like plausible interpretations, and I (personally) have finally decided on the song being about the two conflicting sentiments.
Equally impressive is ‘Walking Disasters‘, the story of a girlfriend whose life has fallen to pieces. The singer emphatically urges to object of the song to seek aid of some sort, eventually threatening to get the help they both really need, despite being in a similarly desperate situation.
[ mp3 ♫ ]
So tell your mother that you love her dearly
And tell your father your won’t lock him out again
And if these words won’t drop from your lips
I will be your Freudian slip
And flowers might wilt when we walk past
And self-help might help when it makes us laugh
Only finding questions in answers
You and I are just walking disasters
Something about that entire chorus seemed too insightful and profound for someone that is a self-professed screw-up, which is a neat, subversive thing to do with a track that is superficially just a fun pop song.
‘Girls/Fast Cars’ is so catchy and unabashedly honest in its substance that it makes for a perfect conclusion to what I consider the core of the record. The closer is a kinda strangely textured departure from the rest of the record; listenable, but not on the same level as the other material.
This Modern Glitch reminds me a lot of last summer’s Champ by Tokyo Police Club in that you can listen to it a few times a day and still not get sick of it. Whether the Wombat’s effort has the shelf-life of Champ remains to be seen, but I’m not sick of it yet.
The band exudes this perception that they’ve purposefully abandoned any attempt to make “music that matters”. Free of such a burden, the result is some of the catchiest, sharpest indie pop out there, perfect for the snarky college-aged hipsters who will certainly buy what the Wombats are selling.The Wombats