Album Review: Wallows — ‘Nothing Happens’

Posted: by The Editor

For the third year in a row, April has sprung another release from indie alt-rock trio, Wallows. In 2017, with the release of “Pleaser,” Wallows (re)introduced themselves onto the scene and were quickly acquired by Atlantic Records. Following scattered single releases, 2018 brought their debut EP, appropriately titled Spring. Now, after getting a tour and festival cycle under their belts, 2019 has bloomed LP1: Nothing Happens.

Dylan Minette (he/him), Braedan Lemasters (he/him), and Cole Preston (he/him) have been releasing music together for nearly a decade under different monikers, but now that Wallows is solid & signed the boys seem in it for the long haul. Each member has their own ties to Big Entertainment, making it easy to disregard the group as a sort of industry plant being used to capitalize off the explosion of bedroom/garage pop-rock. Even the mainstream figurehead of bedroom pop herself, Clairo, was featured on the albums lead single, “Are You Bored Yet?” And yes, while Nothing Happens can get repetitive in its production techniques and occasionally there’s room for eye rolls because of lazy rhyme schemes, it’s anything but a boring listen. It’s a solid start for a group that I believe has more to offer than is being released—this record has the grounds to be more gritty and honest but instead it airs on the side of caution to satisfy a profitable target audience: the ‘hipster’ or ‘indie’ kids of your local suburban high school. That’s not a slight to Wallows or their label, either, as I was someone who’s freshman year of college was soundtracked by Halsey’s Badlands and ILIWYS by The 1975. There just seems to be something underneath the polished imperfections of this album that’s begging to be let out.

“Only Friend” opens the record with a lull of a melody that feeds the audience the dreamy tone that Wallows has down to a science. Minette’s vocals wind through lyrics that make the track into a sort of calling card for those who feel “weathered and faded” and alone in the world: a common theme that will reappear throughout his writings. It’s a welcoming intro track that plays as an invitation to follow the narrator’s journey to find a sense of self or at least someone who makes him feel anything at all before time (his youthfulness) runs out and he’s left to his own devices.

“Treacherous Doctor” is lead with a punch and pull back that will become familiar throughout the rest of the record, and with it comes the introduction of the group’s second vocalist, Braedan Lemasters, whose vocals run on a higher range with a specific twinge of vulnerability that Minette’s smooth voice can lose in its low register. Lyrically, it shines a bit brighter as he begs the question “Love, in terms of life in the twenties / Nothing much to look forward to / I can’t help but cry on vacation / Is this the way to exit my youth” after a crescendo of distorted instruments strips back to a simple background riff that passes the energy along to the beginning drum pattern of “Sidelines”. Sung only by Braedan, “Sidelines” possesses a charm in its whistling melody while lamenting about visions of a slipping lover moving forward while he’s stuck reeling in thoughts about a world where their relationship doesn’t exist. The song feels juvenile in a sort of retrospective way, as if this was a song written from the perspective of a post-graduate trying to capture the intimacies of high school romance (which probably is exactly how it was meant to sound).

Album singles “Are You Bored Yet” and “Scrawny” follow one after the next, and as pre-album releases should, encompass the energy of Nothing Happens along with the aesthetic Wallows is working to be known for with the accompanying music videos. Featuring a holographic streamer filled karaoke bar, a star studded cast of associated acts (Hunny, The Regrettes, Noah Centineo) and double-exposed frames, “Are You Bored Yet” encompasses everything people love (and hate) about Wallows. The way they strive for a late 80’s brand, their industry connections, and the high production is polarizing for some people who staunchly present themselves as anti-industry. And while Clairo’s voice floats perfectly alongside Minette’s, her presence as the mainstream figurehead of bedroom (boardroom) pop feels a bit like a cop out when considering all the other strong female vocalists that could have brought a genuine authenticity to their indie brand. 

“Scrawny” makes me so mad because I think it’s the stupidest song lyrically that I’m absolutely furious I didn’t write first—and I don’t write songs. If any track on this album deserves the title of a “bop” this is it: the pings of a piano accompanies a bridge full of some of the cheesiest rhymes schemes  (“I’ll be one of those people you remember / They’ll be looking at us when we’re together / I’ll be a mannequin you can dismember”) are honestly delightful to listen to. There’s something special about the way that the poppy tune is paired with lyrics that, for Wallows, get pretty explicit (using “motherfucker” on a leading single for an Atlantic artist seems bold) and the video pairs perfectly along with the goofy personality of the three-piece.

The second half of the record hits a stride with a row of absolute bangers (with one exception) that accentuate the point made earlier about the potential this group has to spice up their sound. “Ice Cold Pool” hits on (gasp) sex and temptation with a nod in the first line to the album the narrator lost his virginity to. The lyrics from the second verse are pulled directly from an earlier release from the band from last year called “Underneath the Streetlights in the Winter Outside Your House” where the words were layered over a much more garage-rock, distorted instrumental as opposed to the swinging reverb found in “Ice Cold Pool”.

“World’s Apart”’s existence on the tracklist is puzzling to me, because it halts all the energy that’s been piling up behind the previous songs. It’s empty and aloof, and feels so much like a filler—not just because it’s slow-paced, either. Though the transition from “World’s Apart” into “What You Like” is intriguing (and I’m a SUCKER for a good transition), it drones on too long and truly has become a point of contention with the flow of the album for me to the point that I had to delete it from my library. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but when it’s followed by what I believe to be the three strongest songs on the entire record, my anticipation for them gets the better of me and I don’t want to have to drag through the track’s agonizingly low energy.

The next ten minutes carry the most compelling and exciting moments of the album. “What You Like” is a deep breath that combines refreshing instrumental solos that feel incredibly anthemic with lyrics that bring back the sense of Wallows 2017 debut single, “Pleaser”. There’s a solidity in the repetitive chorus that makes it beg to be chanted, and Preston carries the song through bright cymbals that pair nicely with a synthy backdrop that feels perky and cheeky. “Remember When” pops in with a quick-paced, punchy guitar pick and quickly unfolds into straight up one of the funnest songs I’ve heard in months. It’s shiny and glimmering, and even though the tempo is evenly and metronomically constructed, there’s a looseness to it implied by the rolling chorus of (quite literally) “Oh, oh, oh-oh, oh-oh.” The blowout that follows the bridge is maddeningly energetic and I can’t even begin to imagine how freeing their live performances will be of this song.

Now, for my favorite track of the project. “I’m Full” is a re-release, previously mastered under Wallows’ old moniker The Narwhals. This version is cloudier, and when contextualized by the very songs it gives multiple nods to in the first verse (“Tell me something / tell me what you like” and “You’re my only friend / you’re at it again”) feels much more mature. There’s an ambiguity in the way some of the lyrics can be taken, leaving it open for audience interpretation whether Minette is speaking about something as serious as drug dependency (“And I know I’m bound to lose / When I feel the need to use”) or the destruction of a toxic relationship (“I can’t even think anymore / And I’m tired of the disadvantage / Holding on for something alright”). Nearing the close of the album, this is the track that Wallows needed to pull out of their pocket to appeal to audiences like me who are looking for something that delves past what has been a thematically light tracklist. This is one that begs to be listened to on full blast, with the windows down, cruising down an empty highway at night—I’ve done it and it feels like a breath of relief to scream along.

“Do Not Wait” pulls this debut to a close with an unexpected twist; it brews slowly as Dylan monologues a list of what, at one point in life seemed like be-all-end-all situations. Separating parents, having sex for the first time, broken promises. They’re all teenage nightmares that feel so completely overwhelming but as you continue to live, the truth is Nothing Happens—you grow and you learn and things end up how they are supposed to. It’s a sweet message to close on, and one that leaves you contemplating the mentality you had when you were transitioning out of adolescence and trying to accept all the bullshit that life was throwing at you. As the last lines of “I’ll be there” ring over and over again, it’s a reminder that you do have a place in this world (whether you like it or not), and you’ll be around to see things when they start looking up. You just have to hold on for a little while first.

On first listen, Nothing Happens is one thing: entertaining. There’s a certain infectious energy that comes from the way these boys make music, and I don’t know if it’s of their own doing or their label’s—but that shouldn’t matter. It’s a strange feeling of nostalgia; of a suburban senior year summer before all of your friends part ways. It’s a coming of age plot line that caters to an audience who needs to distance themselves from the mainstream in a safe way that still feels thrilling. Tracks like “I’m Full” and “Ice Cold Pool” (along with previous unrelated releases by the band like “Drunk on Halloween” and “Sun Tan”) offer peeks into a post-graduate stereotypical experiences like being crossed off a friend’s crappy weed for the first time or having an emptiness that you try to fill with whatever you can find, human or not. It’s a cripplingly important transition period looked at through rose-colored glasses on a sunny and seventy-two degree afternoon. It’s a well-produced and purely fun album that you only find fault in when you employ a jaded superiority complex that denies the value in any industry-backed alternative act because you’re so DIY or die. Let teenagers find the value in worlds that artists like Wallows build, even if you think it’s obnoxious. Because at one point we all needed the reassurance that is offered by Nothing Happens, and kids shouldn’t feel ashamed for finding comfort in whatever music they can. Get yourself acquainted with Wallows, because they’re likely to be long-term indie chart-topping sweethearts for this spring and summer, if not for years to come.

Disappointing / Average / Good /Great/ Phenomenal

Olivia Kesling | @shutup_olivia

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