Album artwork by Lizzee Solomon
Fans of piano-driven garage rockers Wreck Loose have been waiting on a full-length record from the band for four years now. But their patience, and their PledgeMusic contributions, are about to pay off. On Friday, June 16th, the eleven-track-long OK, Wreck Loose finally drops, with a release show at James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy happening the same night.
I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard of Wreck Loose so far, from both their single releases and their live performances. So I anticipated that the album would be good.
But I was wrong. It’s fantastic.
On OK, Wreck Loose, the band has pushed their piano-driven, heartfelt, accessible-yet-well-put-together garage pop sound to new creative heights. Old-school influences like classic rock and folk are present, but the songs are far from predictable or dated. Instead, Wreck Loose proves they’re not afraid to get a little weird—be it with song structures (such as in the evolving, seven-minute-long track “Country Mouse); subject matter (Phil Spector, Kurt Cobain, and car washes are all topics of interest); or the musical riffs themselves. This weirdness is a strength. It makes each song unmistakably theirs, and makes it possible for them to explore complicated, sometimes contradictory feelings and narratives with startling power and depth. I found myself immersed in and trusting the surprising journey each track led me on. And as a music lover, there’s hardly a more gratifying listening experience than that.
The passion and skill of each member’s musicianship is a crucial component of that trust. Max Somerville’s warm voice soars, and his essential piano parts expertly navigate the spectrum from poignant and melancholy to rollicking and frenetic. Nathan Zoob’s guitar is also, unsurprisingly, a standout. He balances strong technical skill with emotional charge, providing consistent grit, power, and passion. The rhythm section holds its own, too. Cool, groovy bass from Dave Busch rocks steady, occasionally getting its moments in the spotlight. Derek Krystek’s commanding yet intricate drumlines are the final puzzle piece. And all of that is taken to the next level with poignant, hard-hitting lyricism and a remarkable knack for introductions and conclusions.
This is a band so comfortable in their sound, and with each other, that they’re willing and able to take big risks. Those risks return big rewards. OK, Wreck Loose is a record that will surprise you, move you, and convince you that (to paraphrase the lead single) the next song might just save your life.
That single, “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller,” is also the album opener. I talked about it more in detail when it dropped back in December. But it’s a strong way to start. It cycles through happy head-nodding highs and sparser, pleading sections, led in both cases by Somerville’s Elton-John-esque piano riffs. Driving percussion and a triumphant guitar solo from Zoob accompany quirky lyrics that address the search for artistic inspiration: “Because my money’s no good, and I can’t catch a break/And if I ever had it before/Don’t you know that I lost it.” This is an excellent bridge between the trademark Wreck Loose sound listeners have come to know and appreciate, and the new territory they’re about to explore.
Next up is the midtempo, swinging “I Do Right.” It has a catchy, unmistakable old-school soul vibe, and it’s noticeably peppier than its predecessor. This is an interesting choice, considering the subject matter seems to be an uncertain romantic endeavor. Somerville’s voice matches the musical tone even as he sings lines like, “I can tell by the way that you play with your hair/I’ve got you thinkin’ ‘bout the things I might be doin’ when I’m not there.” The word “maybe” is repeated more than any other, with occasional melodic dips into minor chords alluding to this uncertainty. Energy-wise, it fits well after the first track, and “Hard Drugs” keeps that intuitive flow going. It has a similarly soulful feel, with more acute highs and lows that travel impressively in its short length of three minutes and twenty-three seconds. The recurring question, “Are you into hard drugs?”, as well as the concluding refrain, “Tell me you love me, you need me, you want me,” give pretty solid insight to the possible causes of these peaks and valleys. A highlight occurs at the beginning of each chorus, when Krystek’s cymbals crash emphatically, the keys get more insistent, and Somerville strategically howls into falsetto while pleading, “No, no, I love you, I love you, I love you…baby, a little more, than I ever thought would be.” And listen for a guitar solo that blossoms from darker and moody to downright glorious.
“Isn’t It A Shame About Kurt?” brings the first major turn of the album: a theatrical-at-times, mournful ballad, with impassioned vocals and fuzzy, grungy guitar. It’s an ode to the tragic circumstances surrounding Kurt Cobain’s death (with Thurston Moore name-dropped in the first verse), but the sentiments seem applicable to many great artists gone before their time since then. Melodically identical phrases in the verses build tension as they repeat, enhanced by hard-hitting lyrics: “And when you trade your passion in/for something less divine/You tell someone you love them/Then someone lets it slide/And still, they give you half a chance to throw it all away…” The emotional guitar riffs and sharp transitions truly take this track to the next level.
“Carwash” moves us from the theatrical to a more down-to-earth, pensive place. Insistent on-off piano chord playing (which mellows and expands in the choruses) takes the instrumental lead here, with guitar, bass, and drums providing a restrained, pretty frame. The track explores a melancholy sense of loss and disconnection, with some of my favorite lyrics on the album: “Took a vacation/from self-seeking/Found myself/metaphorically speaking/Driving through the carwash/I see a pattern that I’ve seen before/But when I get close to the windshield/I can’t see it anymore.” The chorus is particularly moving too: “And when I see something beautiful…/I just wanna tell someone/I don’t wanna think twice about it.” After the excitement of the first four songs, arriving at a contemplative track like this is definitely welcome. “Placebo” confronts similar themes, though with a little more bite and bitterness. The pained, honest lyrics are the highlight here as well: “Make me feel special, make me feel it all/I don’t wanna be the one who has to make the call/But you keep me hanging on waiting for the fall, and nothing happens/nothing happens…” The phrase “nothing happens” is repeated throughout, with more iterations each time, driving that increasing sense of letdown home. Instrumentally, the track builds from simple keys and vocals to a full band and gospel-style harmonies, capped off with a slightly funky guitar riff, in less than three minutes. But nothing feels rushed or forced. I know I’ve talked a lot about lyrics, but I can’t not mention this standout line: “This, is not dangerous/This is all a part of growing up/But I feel, like I’ve grown, up enough.”
“Heart’s Been Broken” was the B-side to “Long Time Listener,” and I talked about it more extensively here. To summarize: the energy and weirdness get ramped back up, hard, and it’s awesome. Frantic key riffs, attacking percussion, multiple strange melodic shifts, and anguished cries of “I feel like my heart’s been broken/for the very first time/and I don’t know what to do, no,” from Somerville make this off-the-wall track shine. The strangeness doesn’t stop with the next song, which you might expect from its title: “Phil Spector Killed Someone Today.” The midtempo pop-rock music itself leans towards the classic and conventional, with syncopated, climbing piano riffs, and Busch’s bass coming to the forefront during the verses. This makes the lyrics even more striking in contrast: “The waitress sits there on her screen/She’s been on the clock about an hour now/The vampire waits in the mezzanine/He’s been on a diet/Yeah, is this the slump of the century/or do we need a reason to riot?” The connecting thread between these references (Phil Spector himself and a “mothership” are also mentioned) is the chorus line, “Everybody wants a little, everybody wants a little blood.” The way Somerville sings this, combined with the comforting warmth of the instrumentals, and the vocal harmonies that appear on the drawn-out word “blood,” almost lead you to expect the word “love” instead. This seems intentional, and it’s a cool twist. I can’t pretend to know exactly what this track is trying to say, but I like the way they say it. To quote my notes: “They’ve stepped up their goddamn creative game, I tell you that much.”
That holds especially true for the next song, “Country Mouse.” Throughout its almost-seven-minute length, its straightforward, mellow folk sound evolves in surprising ways. The band pulls off difficult melodic dips and modulations that grab your attention, and the increasing sparseness and sadness of the music reflects a similar downward turn in the lyrics. The bright certainty of the beginning (“He makes a lot of money in the city/He tries to learn a new word every day,”) turns to abject self-questioning in the conclusion (“Did I make the right decision?/Am I part of the solution?/Phone it in, make it count/Never have a single doubt/I swear to god I love myself/Within, without…”) This transition is gradually built up to, which is crucial. Early hints are seen in the recurring line: “Don’t get me wrong, I still love you/don’t get me wrong, I still need you/don’t get me wrong, everything is a-okay.” The repetition subverts its surface-level reassuring sentiments. If the speaker truly believed that everything WAS “a-okay,” why would he keep having to repeat it? He seems to be trying (and ultimately failing) to convince himself. To pull off something this deep and complex, and make it cohesive, is no easy feat. But Wreck Loose proves more than up to the challenge.
The sad, poignant keys at the end of “Country Mouse” flow seamlessly into the beginning of “The Day of the Dead.” (So much so, that the first time I listened through, I didn’t realize that the track had changed until the title phrase appeared.) Its emotional thread is unbroken as well. The repetition of the somber, almost choir-like line “Da-da-da-da, da da, daaaa, da,” is beautiful and atmospheric. The rest of the instruments remain subdued and lilting, almost hazy. They provide appropriate sonic setting for pointed, melancholy lyrics such as: “Practicing the same old lines/Loud enough to hear us think/New York City/I don’t love you/but you know I’ll let you buy me a drink.” This song grows and changes too—both the keys and Krysek’s drums pick up in speed and intensity to accompany a strangely toned, extended guitar solo from Zoob for the final two minutes. Moving from sadness to a bit of madness is another off-the-wall choice, that proves to be powerful.
The final song, “Make It Out Alive,” brings us back to the more conventional garage pop sound found at the beginning—but now with a sense of gained wisdom and vindication. It reminds me of a track that would play as the credits roll at the end of a movie, with the protagonist riding off down a highway on a motorcycle, a knowing grin on his face. The music is energetic, but not too fast, with emphatic drum hits and cymbal crashes adding power to triumphant guitar and key riffs. The bass takes over in the song’s quieter moments, accompanying honest introspection in the lyrics: “Nothing is mine, but I feel like it should be/Getting off on the possibility that it could be/Never had to carry anyone, I was always letting you carry me home.” The repeated lines, “You told me to love myself/It’s the only way,” and the chorus’ rallying cry of, “Make it out alive, make it out alive,” are heartening in a way that feels earned rather than cheesy. It’s a solid, encouraging conclusion to one hell of an album.
In short, OK, Wreck Loose tackles both the universal and the bizarre with genuine heart and staggering talent. It is absolutely worth your time.
The album will be available on Bandcamp, and other online music outlets, on Friday, June 16th. You can also pick up a physical copy at the album release show happening that night at James Street. Door are at 8 PM, and Buffalo Rose will be kicking things off. Check out the Facebook event page for more information, and buy your ticket here. Keep up with Wreck Loose on Facebook if you’re not already.