Day Wave’s latest EP ‘Hard to Read’ is a gentle pulse of a record, one that shimmers slowly into frame, ticks over dreamily for some twenty minutes or so, and waves farewell sleepily as it recedes from view. Its five songs play comfortably within their areas of expertise, each one introducing a new wrinkle while remaining true to the band’s relaxed yet propulsive sound. At times it can be perhaps too comfortable, hewing close to the shopworn tones and rhythms of late-period indie rock. Yet this is not to deny the craft and pleasure within its clean-line beats and ocean tones.
But first, some info. Day Wave is a band from California that plays shimmering indie rock. Their latest EP comes on the heels of 2015’s ‘Head Case’, and proceeds entirely from the mind and hands of Jackson Phillips, the band’s sole recording member.
The EP kicks off with ‘Deadbeat Girl’, a catchy uptempo number that moves from staggered layers of guitars to a driving, aquatic pulse. ‘Gone’ takes us a to a cooler, more reflective place, before ‘Hard to Read’ arrives to once again ramp up the tempo and flesh out the palette with elegant autumnal guitar distortion. That track is marked by subtle, unusual melodic movements in the bass register, and this sense of slightly off-kilter melody is repeated in the follow-up, ‘Stuck’. As a backfoot vocal hops skittishly through thick layers of stacked and tinny guitars, we move passively on to the closing track, ‘You’. Slower, sparser and slightly twanged, it presents us with a brief, amiable closer brush by high, mellow synths.
Day Wave’s Hard to Read is a gentle pulse of sound. Infused with late indie rock, its clean line beats and ocean tones will have you chilling, perhaps too much.
Arguably the most immediately arresting aspect of this record is its array of rich and remarkable guitar tones. They really are beautiful folks, and they’re worth the price of admission. In ‘Deadbeat Girl’, plucked strings luxuriate in cascading quaver waves of rhythmic delay, and ring out clean in the higher register. Jump over to ‘Hard to Read’, and we find a delicately distorted rhythm figure meshing beautifully with later overlays to create an ambiguous warm-cold backdrop for a tight rhythmic underpinning.
‘Stuck’ also features subtle layering, with its chorus lent chiming majesty by an influx of insistent unison guitar figures. Throw in the artful use of delicate, muffled synthesisers, and you have a sterling example of 21st century dream-rock production. This production is served by a cool, swirling mix that highlights the balance between naturalistic guitars and liquid effects while maintaining clarity and drive in the rhythm section, especially the drums. Through some miracle of miking or mixing, this record’s drums achieve a perfect blend of human-touch resonance and metronomic digital sheen, a sound that is broadly clear but shaded with ambiguity. In short, it’s a compelling for the overlaid melodies which come to us via a pure, unadorned vocal.
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The problem that hovers has something to do with a missing piece. The main thing that prevents ‘Hard to Read’ from reaching that sparkly special place where your brain gets floaty is the songwriting. It’s not bad – far from it. Phillips has a left-field melodic sense that graces his tunes with a host of loping melodies and bendy intervals, and his chord progressions click together seamlessly.
However, with the exception of opening track ‘Deadbeat Girl’, very few of the tunes linger long in your memory after they come to a close; rather they tend to blend in recollection so as to provide not a song-by-song catalogue but instead a broad suggestion of the EP’s melodic sensibility as a whole. This is in spite of the record’s heavy reliance on repetition, with rhythms, textures and melodic fragments varying only when the song’s structure calls for a chorus or bridge section, and with little variation in overall production style occurring from song-to-song. Similarly, the songs stick closely to conventional pop-rock structures and post-Bloc Party indie rhythms, such that when it comes to tension-and-release, most of the heavy lifting is left to the textures and layers of Phillips’ glistening production.
Yet through it all it still retains a strength. ‘Hard to Read’ is a finely-crafted record that goes down smooth. This is music for late-night thoughts and the hazy Sundays that follow; it bathes the ears even as it lifts the heart rate. True, it’s not the most experimental stuff you’re likely to come across, but there is still real pleasure to be gained from hearing a familiar style done well.
The delicate guitar figures resonate perfectly within their webs of layering and delay, and Phillip’s plaintive voice sits right in the sweet spot, suspended in wispy reverb over crisp-yet-plummy drums. The hooks might not be quite there yet, but the sound is right where it needs to be.