Upon listening to Athaletics, Wavelets’ first official full length release, it’s apparent as to whose exercises the Florida five-piece have been diligently following: the seminal American Football. While Wavelets have injected their own unpolished, basement show bombastity to American Football’s “formula,” their instrumentation is still comprised of intricately woven guitar melodies and subtle, accented percussive notes. Their unique quality, however, comes in the certain wry sense of humor on their debut, from their misspelling of “athletics” to how all their song titles read like inside jokes, such as “Kelly Hewitt Loves Waterworld.” The humor never quite seeps into the actual lyrics of the album, which feature recurring images of muscle, concrete and life on the road; metaphors for growing up and the complications of romantic relationships, but it is ever present. And with a runtime of close to 25 minutes, most songs on the album end almost as quickly as they begin. However, none of them feel stilted or incomplete.
On the opening track “Julio Won’t Get Out Of The Car,” Wavelets introduces the feel of the album by filling the majority of the track with an instrumentation of whirling, melodic guitar melodies, reminiscent of early Minus the Bear. With only a minute left before the end of the song, Steven Gray steps up to the mic and half shouts, half speaks, “Knee deep in the pavement, stretched out, lying helpless at the foot of a stoplight/I’ve been here every other day/My eyes are wide but I can’t see straight,” in a voice that is scarred by cigarettes and sweetened with beer.
One of the unique things about Gray’s lyrical style is that each song is usually only five or six brief verses, with no chorus to break them up. This gives his songs almost a stream of consciousness feel to them. One of the more striking vignettes is “Bad Scene, Jawbreaker’s Fault.” The track opens with a bright, dancing guitar melody before a heavy bass line and Gray’s voice come in. Throughout the song, his voice flits in and out of the instrumentation, like he’s fading, using his last ounce of strength he needs to vocalize his latest realization. “I finally found the time to leave, making peace with a fistful of dry heaves/I bit off more than I can choose/Now it’s into this coma with nothing to prove/I’m exhausted, I can’t see straight, I feel dizzy/Squaring off with this lack of composure, I’m a stranger in this old bed.”
“Cam Taylor Is So American Kushball Right Now” is one of the standout tracks, not for having the longest track name, but for how well it represents who Wavelets is as a band. The instrumentation is jangly, as guitar melodies are interwoven with bright, crashing percussion and seasoned with fuzz – imbuing the track with an unpolished live feel. Gray is able to weave together a narrative about the complications that come with life on the road and long distance relationships. “With a half ton of matches, we set a smoldering sense of calm, and we both said a few things I’m not sure that you meant/With your breathe on wires, talking while you should be asleep/Tell all the English boys you meet, that you wish you never met me, that I don’t have a single cell of tact left in my body, that I brought all this on myself/In case you forget, I miss you to death.”
With their debut album, Wavelets were able to pay homage to their influences without it overshadowing their own unique sound and character. And with Athaletics short length, Gray’s polarizing snapshots of life and Wavelets’ whirling electric interwoven guitar melodies, the album is sure to stay on constant rotation for a long time.
Sound Quality: Part of the charm of Wavelets is their unpolished, basement show bombastity and Tiny Engines, for the most part, was able to capture that energy with their pressing of Athaletics. However, along with the almost unpredictable, live feel of the record, also comes with instances of heavy bass or overly bright guitars. While not a major detraction from the overall experience, it does serve as a mild distraction. The record is, however, crisp with very few “crackles” or “pops.” Overall, the digital and vinyl versions sound familiar, with neither one standing out as being better as the other.
Packaging: Wavelets and Tiny Engines have put together a visually unique and appealing design. The front of the sleeve features an illustration of wax-faced matador, provoking a skeletal bull worm in an empty coliseum. One thing that would have been nice would have been if Wavelets mentioned who was responsible for the illustration in the linear notes. The back of the sleeve features the track listing and the label logo. The album itself is a 12” record, cut at 45 RPM, with black and white photos of boys in costumes as the center label artwork. The most unique aspect of Athaletics packaging is its linear notes, which are printed on wax paper-esque material and appear handwritten. Despite its uniqueness, the linear notes are sparse, featuring one, odd illustration and lyrics without the song titles themselves. Also oddly absent from the notes are the band members’ names. Additionally, the album comes with a digital download code for the album.
Extras: Tiny Engines had offered a limited-edition, hand-screened print for the first 50 pre-orders. Currently, the label has the record in three color variants – transparent red, clear (SOLD OUT) and 180-gram black – as well as a package deal for all three.
Summary: Wavelets have crafted an infectious tribute to their roots with Athaletics, and with a running time of just over twenty minutes; the album begs to be listened to, over and over again. And, with such an impressive debut, Wavelets is a band worth knowing, worth sharing, and in that spirit, they have all of their early material free on their blog. So, listen, share, repeat.
Make Sure To Spin: “Luke Moses Loves Stale Food,” “Cam Taylor Is So American Kushball Right Now” and “Cannonball.”
You can still pick up the record over at Tiny Engines.