The Waeve - The Waeve (Album Review)

Surely 2023 will see the tail end of lockdown albums. By now, artists have had ample time to give their quarantined expressions the right amount of reverb. However, The Waeve come washing in with a testament to the artistic possibilities that arise from a world in turmoil. A duo comprising Rose Elinor Dougall (The Pipettes) and Graham Coxon (Blur), two songwriters of equal profundity, their debut self-titled album manifested after the already-acquainted artists ran into each other at a socially-distanced benefit gig for Beirut in 2020. The group's debut self-titled album is at once a composed and energetic offering of alternative folk-rock, though the exact genre of this collection is as ambiguous as the songs collected on it. While it's hard to say exactly what these songs are about, they are built around expansive and deeply absorbing balladry, which pays homage to British folk and psychedelia traditions. Though it's not our business, the duo also have a child. What does concern us, however, is that their music could be viewed as another type of offspring, meticulous care and detail and have been poured into its fine-art-school edges, with abstract content given framing and form through surprising transitions and additions.

Dougall is the more psychedelic of the two, stretching her sometimes darkly yarns out into pastures fair. Coxon is an abstract expressionist who uses speed, distortion and high-end tones like a painter uses red. Dougall gives Coxon's more immediate work some weighty context, and Coxon never lets Dougall's sadcore sentiments reign supreme for too long. Often eschewing coherent song structures, low-tempo, low-stakes adult contemporary is served alongside discordant and wild turns to electro-rock and romanticly grandiose orchestration. Yet, for all the songwriting that went into the songs, it's hard to know what they are about. Instead, the lyrics rely on the obscure, the vague or, when all else fails, calls to love. However, the words do enough to help get the multifaceted ideas across. And while the flowery wall of Spector Sound ornamentation can border on the bombastic, it's warranted in an album full of anything-goes attitude. 



"Over and Over" deals with the absurd reality of relationships ("You're always close enough to care, but do I even know you're there?") and is a convincing argument that the duo work well when singing in unison. Even if the guitar solo is cheesier than France, it still shreds. "Sleepwalking" wonderfully contrasts its electronic drums with sweeping strings and crystal clear vocals from Dougall, arguably her best performance on the album, before a mélange of keys trip into a solid groove driven by drums and bass. Coxon cleverly stays downstage for most of this track, allowing Dougall to connect with her audience until the high-octane, firework finale, where voices and instruments converge under a lament on a life lived obliviously ("How could you sleepwalk your whole way through?") 


Dougall is a curious singer, able to enunciate lyrics clearly, but with the meaning skewered by hazy delivery, as evidenced by "Drowning", a stunning track that soars from dramatic pop to big band notions. But The Waeve are never ones to let a song know itself too well, preferring to challenge the safety of wrapping things up early with multi-layered grandness. The substantially meaty album mainly consists of four-to-seven-minute established-by-force pieces. The briefest track, "Someone Up There", is also the neatest. Coxon seems to be singing "You've lost your power, it's all gone sour" from a gutter and closes with a flaring guitar riff you want to hear again as soon as it finishes. The precious slow-burning, moonlight-soft folk of "All Along" is corrupted by distorted guitars; quite stupendous. "Undine", the longest track, is a labyrinth of hypnotic tones and sporadic phrases spread across a landscape of searching guitars and more straightforward indie rock passages. "Alone And Free" is somewhat of a slog, like trotting through thick mud, only to end up at a breathtaking view ("Where the sky beats the sea"). The song speaks of the precarious nature of relationships and how easy it is to lose our identity in them ("I'd rather be alone and free than see you turn and go from me"). It's almost enough to make up for the sickly-sweet tedium of the closing track, "You're All I Want to Know", with its robot-guitar solo and 60s milkshake-diner atmosphere. 

While The Waeve requires a patient ear, and not all songs will stick, it only takes a little while for its disparate threads to intertwine in a captivating whack of rich music.