Photo and album art by Brett Wagner
In case you hadn’t heard, local garage rock band Paddy the Wanderer released their newest album, the eight-track-long Waiting for the Miracle, in October. A follow-up to last year’s Facts for Whatever and their fourth release as a group, PtW carried on their tradition of releasing an album per year (and having Delicious Pastries’ Vincent Poprocky produce it.)
In many ways, however, Waiting for the Miracle breaks with tradition. And that’s a good thing. It’s not exaggerating to say that this is Paddy the Wanderer’s best work yet.
Their trademark charged, wall-of-sound style is still present, in sizzling, intricate guitar riffs; energetic, attacking percussion; vibrating, heartbeat bass lines; and catchy keys that provide dimension and versatility. But Waiting for the Miracle features more subdued, pretty moments, more slow, thoughtful builds, and more measured retreats than ever before. It’s a new direction for the band. They’re more experimental, less afraid to show their softer side. And these risks pay off.
This sonic vulnerability becomes all the more powerful for the often-heavy topics in their lyrics. Anxieties both deeply personal (growing older, feeling crazy and confused while having to pretend that you’re fine, uncertainty about which choices are the right ones) and societal (the monotony of the daily grind required to get by, the sense of hopelessness as institutions crumble around us) are explored with gut-punching resonance. Like this line from the fourth track, “Riot:” “It has always been decided/when my tongue was tied and hands were bound/They expected us to smile/I thought I lost my head/It’s in the stars instead.” But as the record progresses, PtW shows you (and themselves) that the antidotes aren’t so far away. Solace can found in sharing these dark places, whether through art, community, relationships, or all three.
“It feels like we’ve all been waiting for a miracle in one way or another,” the band wrote in their Facebook post announcing the album. And they’re not wrong. If 2018 has left you feeling confused, helpless, resentful, exhausted, or overwhelmed, this record has something for you. These tracks are both thoughtfully put together and achingly genuine. You’ve never heard them quite like this before: this is Paddy the Wanderer, 2.0.
The band consists of Joey Troupe on guitar and vocals, Zach Dowdell on keys, Bob Hartle on bass, and Tim Kelly on drums.
The first song, “Scenery” is a fitting bridge between familiar and new territory. Its introductory instrumental wouldn’t feel out of place as the soundtrack to a coastal city street in a Cruisin’ USA video game. Kelly’s percussion provides a driving, rhythmic frame for a back-and forth between high, spacey synth riffs and prominent, drawling bass. It’s slightly subdued and very cool. Higher-energy choruses offer more of the band’s traditional garage-rock vibe. Lyrically, Troupe wants someone to join him on this journey: “Wanna get you into my scenery/it’s really something I need/Whether or not you believe in me/Gotta get you into my scene.” Or, more simply, “I wanna burn out/but not alone.”
“Faded,” meanwhile, packs an unapologetic hard rock punch. Grungy, heavy guitar takes center stage in this wall-of-sound track, with Troupe’s trademark searing riffs scorching on top of everything else. In the chorus, he sings: “Maybe when you open your eyes/you’ll feel it too/Faded, faded, night after night/They’re gonna bury you.” Its relentless energy parallels how being faded/inebriated to this point can hit you like a ton of bricks, and may not be the best coping mechanism. But that’s more of an observation than a judgement—he also posits, “Let’s face it/who’s blameless?” This nuanced consideration is also reflected in the song’s rich texture: guitars are the main thing, but they’re not the only thing.
“She’s Been Screamin’” is less intense, a bit of a breather. It’s also the source of the album title: “I’ve been waitin’/I’ve been waitin’/for the miracle/the miracle to come.” A bouncy, head-nodding rhythm and Troupe’s higher vocal range give this track a happy sound, contrasting the hopelessness of most of the words. The speaker talks about the struggles both he and this woman have been through, noting that “we’ve been broken/we’ve been broken/it’s irreparable,” before asking “Can we carry on?” Luckily, a remedy seems within reach in the short-and-sweet refrain: “Let’s get away/let’s get away/and forget everyone.” Choral “wo-o-o-oah”’s towards the end drive the point home—togetherness can help ease the pain.
It’s not an instant solution, though. “Riot” is when the band’s evolution becomes the most obvious. Its quiet, pretty start puts the spotlight on piano riffs from Dowdell, layered over acoustic guitar strums. When bass and drums come in, they do so softly, with subdued grooves and gentle, cymbal-heavy percussive hits. There’s a full minute of this before Troupe sings. And again, the group shows their knack for contrasts with powerfully despairing lyrics: “They all told me to deny it/so I closed my eyes and choked it down/Held my face up to the fire/I thought I lost my head/It’s in the stars, she said.” This internal struggle continues, while the music slowly builds in energy. But eventually the pressure is too much. The clash between what the speaker feels and what he’s allowed to express explodes into emphatic, heavy electric guitar and earth-shaking percussion. Finally he can admit (with a touch of otherworldly reverb) “I’m a riot, a riot.” A killer guitar solo rips, channeling this energy, while a choral version of the recurring phrase “Lost my head/I thought I lost my head” repeats in the background to close out the song. This use of build-up and transition is fantastic. It sonically demonstrates that you can only lie to yourself (and everyone else) for so long before the truth comes out somehow.
“Get You There,” meanwhile, is a fun track describing just how you should “let yourself be healed.” It’s a well-placed reminder that all this struggle is FOR something, something good. (The exact nature of that something is up for interpretation; listen for yourself and see what you think.) “Safe and Sound,” however, is anything but. A frenetic back-and-forth between Troupe’s dark, gritty guitar and Dowdell’s zany, minor-chord-heavy keys keeps you on your toes: a little uncertain, a little tense. Its lyrics reinforce this foreboding: “Don’t forget/what you’ve seen/Fragments of/memory/Watch it burn/to the ground/All you’ve learned/safe and sound.” The slight buzzing at the end is effective…even the song telling you you’re in danger is starting to come undone. The track itself defies the complacency suggested by its title. It’s menacing and it’s damn cool.
The seventh song, “Daily Number,” captures the sense of futility that can accompany trying to hope in the midst of a chaotic world. And now we’re at the album closer. “I’m So Grown”
Like “Riot,” it starts off slow. A pretty, slightly melancholy fingerpicked guitar dances over light cymbal-tapping percussion. Troupe ruminates on feelings of helplessness in the midst of time’s relentless tide, summarized in the chorus: “I feel the waves crash/Take my body out to sea/As the days pass/It’s hard to breathe.” The repeated descending melody on the guitar, with everything else relatively subdued, helps create an atmosphere of weary resignation. But between two and three minutes in, something starts to shift. He soon finds someone who “open[s] up the door,” and the first hopeful lyrics appear: “You looked me in the eyes, I knew it right away/I’m goin’ home.” Triumphant choral ahh’s ring out behind syncopated drum hits while the guitar and bass ascend in tandem. You can hear the strength the speaker finds in his loved ones, even without the lyrics describing it. This transition is earned and so satisfying. Almost better, though, is its return to the initial guitar riff at the very end. Troupe’s final “I’m all grown” feels less like giving up and more like conviction.
And maybe that’s the miracle. Maybe it’s not some fairytale scenario in which all our problems are solved with the snap of a finger. Maybe it’s in the determination it takes to move forward in spite of those problems. Maybe it’s in our willingness to share our struggles, the art that helps articulate them, and the friends and family who walk beside us while we fight.
Regardless, the good news is, you don’t have to wait any longer to judge for yourself. Waiting for the Miracle is available on all major streaming and download platforms, including Bandcamp and Spotify. Check it out below as well.
You can catch Paddy the Wanderer playing their last show of the year this Friday, December 7th, at Cattivo. They’ll be joined on the lineup by late. and Bat Zuppel (who recently released a great new album of their own, MIRROR|RORRIM.) Cover is $7, with doors at 8:30 PM and the music starting at 9. This show is 21+. Check out the Facebook event page for more details, and keep up with PtW on Facebook here.