Being old enough to have lived through and enjoyed the fecundity of post punk and new wave music when it originally blossomed in the 1980s has advantages and disadvantages. I feel lucky to have experienced the excitement of those years first hand. On the other hand, I often find myself eyeing with suspicion new bands that fell in love with those same sounds decades later. Hearing “Councillor,” the first single from Wazu‘s new album Robobo provided mixed feelings along those lines.
The song is so obviously influenced by Depeche Mode it’s almost cute: chord changes, heavy guitar, chiming keyboards, buzzing industrial sounds. Still, it’s a fine song and quite good at paying tribute to the originators of the sound.
With cautious optimism, I found myself rapidly disappointed by the remaining ten songs on Robobo . . . on first listen. Surprisingly, the album grows stronger with time. While not perfect, and decidedly beholden to its forebears, if you can listen past the influences, Robobo is a rather good album.
“It’s A Trick” is more in line with the rest of the songs on Robobo, where sultry, staccato vocals blend in with the music and the repetitive, frequently obtuse lyrics that hint at a futuristic, quasi-political vision. “Show Your Skin” balances the wealth of synthesized sounds with some crunchy guitars, teasing at being a pure pop song but never following through, thus creating an interesting tension.
Another factor that makes Wazu’s songs stand out are the vocals between Matt (male) and Rizz (female). Although they both have quite androgynous voices, they are different enough to create subtle textures when they exchange verses and choruses.
The songs are terse, dense, and don’t overstay their welcome. At times, however, the sameness tends to wear down the ears. It’s not that Matt and Rizz can’t sing well or create good tunes; it’s that their structure is too rigid and cold, and often doesn’t allow for the slightest improvisation or warmth.
“I Think I Remember” has a heavier guitar sound and a good chorus, but is followed by the claustrophobic “Hard Game,” which could really use some breathing room. To the duo’s credit, they’ve included a long, instrumental ending which helps somewhat.
The less frenetic pace of “Symbol System” works in its favor, and presents a respite from the strict “Show Your Skin.” Rizz’s higher pitch in the chorus of “I’ll Take You Over,” along with Matt’s harmonies make that song a standout. “Ghost Years” is excellent, with the most intriguing lyrics on all of Robobo as well as an almost mournful vocal from Rizz and a haunting quality in the song’s pacing.
“Irene,” the final track, includes acoustic guitar and harmonica, a massive change from the instrumentation on the other ten songs, especially with its weird, extended coda of guitars and ambient noise. Unfortunately, Matt’s vocals here are not as flexible and seem out of place.
Wazu comes across as a little too self-consciously ’80s at times, although they definitely have a distinctive, industrial-tinged electro-pop sound. This begs the question: Where do they go from here? Robobo almost sounds like the third album from a band who has mastered their own style, so here’s hoping they will allow themselves to stretch their wings a little bit more on their next effort.
Robobo is out today from Anti-Language Recordings. You can purchase the album from Wazu’s Bandcamp page.
Nov 1: Philadelphia, PA – PhilaMOCA
Nov 3: Buffalo, NY – Festival of Blood
Nov 6: Detroit, MI – Lager House
Nov 8: Ann Arbor, MI – Far House
Nov 9: E Lansing, MI – TBA
Nov 11: Kalamazoo, MI – TBA
Nov 13: Chicago, IL – TBA
Nov 15: St Louis, MO – The Heavy Anchor
Nov 16: Louisville, KY – Haymarket Whiskey
Nov 18: Atlanta, GA – 10 High
Nov 24: Dallas, TX – Good Records (3pm)
Nov 24: Dallas, TX – Dada
Nov 25: Austin, TX – Frontier Bar
Nov 27: Austin, TX – Wardenclyffe Gallery
Nov 29: Houston, TX – Super Happy Fun Land
Nov 30: Baton Rouge, LA – TBA