While listening to a stack of 20 newer releases sent to Kansas State’s radio station, Wildcat 91.9, I stumbled upon a not-too-new album that shined above most of the rest. That would be this one, Nothing Happens, by new(ly named) indie rock/pop group (feat. 13 Reasons Why star, Dylan Minnette), Wallows. And while I’m a little late to listen to and analyze this release; with it coming out on March 22nd of this year; I do think it’s necessary to shed light on what is this group’s first, full studio album.
I say “newly named,” because apparently Wallows has been together for quite a long time; forming in their childhood, and even playing at Warped Tour in 2011; just working under other names. This rendition of the group, however, released its first line of singles in 2017, an EP in 2018, and finally, their first full release, Nothing Happens a couple of months ago. I hadn’t heard much, if anything about them, surprisingly. But they’re still seemingly early in their careers, and have plenty of time to make more of a name for themselves. And with the quality of this release, I see that as a likely possibility.
Wallows, at least on this release, combine a great amount of genres and influences. From the Beatles and classic rock, to newer indie project like Beach Fossils and Beach House (the modern indie scene likes beaches, okay?), you can find similarities everywhere. In fact, at first, they reminded me a little bit of Cage the Elephant, only with the more interesting style from their first few albums. If I were to classify this, however, I’d probably put it in surf/garage rock, with a bit of post-punk in there as well. They love the 80’s, which is very much on display in the music video to their song, “Are You Bored Yet.”
[Watch the music video for “Are You Bored Yet” here]
Despite this large mix of styles, unfortunately, on the surface level, Nothing Happens might seem like a very generic indie pop/rock album. This comes out specifically on a few of the tracks they decided to release as singles: “Sidelines,” and “Are You Bored Yet.” While neither are bad, or throw-aways necessarily, they’re not very intriguing. I was excited to hear a female vocalist on “Are You Bored Yet,” but it didn’t add to the final product, in my mind. I didn’t find it helpful in any way. And “Sidelines;” while it has some interesting lyricism; has its breakup-song trait played out, and is certainly the least unique track, sonicly speaking. It just kind of slogs along without changing in many ways, which you can’t say for most of the other songs here. It is unfortunate these happened to be the first impression on many, and also find themselves as tracks 3 and 4 on the album. Both before and after, I find all other tracks to be simply great.
Speaking of these great tracks, there is a numerous amount of them. With a total of 11 songs, if you subtract the 2 sub-par ones, that leaves us with 9 that are in fact, good. And while I don’t necessarily have the time, energy, or attention-span to go in depth on all of them, I’ll do my best to highlight those that deserve it.
“Treacherous Doctor,” is I think the first example of some of the genius songwriting coming from Wallows. Beginning with a pretty upbeat and driving rhythm section, it soon devolves into an anger-filled track, more than anything. It depicts a struggling young-adult dealing with a lot of existential issues; with lines like “Are the things I think are important simply just distractions from death,” and “So what’s the point of connecting to anyone?”. They show how confusing finding meaning to both life and relationships can be, in these large transitions. They do also depart from simply lyricism, giving us a couple of incredibly chaotic and cacophonous instrumental breaks. Seemingly out of nowhere, a pretty bright song becomes dark, representing how immediate these thoughts and feelings can pop up.
These themes of internal issues do continue with the fifth track, “Scrawny,” which may be the most enjoyable on the album, to me. Its weird combination of self-deprecation and confidence still has me wondering whether this is a feel-good, or a feel-bad song. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to determine that. It has the “protagonist” (if that’s what you want to call him) confessing a lot of personal flaws, such as “Only [being] content if things stay the same,” and “[tending] to freak myself out.” However, owning it, telling you to call him a “Scrawny motherfucker with a cool hairstyle.” Its ownership of the character’s negativity almost gives it a punk-esque vibe to me, saying “yeah, I’m a piece of garbage and I love it.” I don’t know if it’ll be as relatable to those who haven’t been scrawny before, but I do think its attitude is pretty infectious and enjoyable nonetheless.
[Watch the music video for “Scrawny” here]
The next track, “Ice Cold Pool,” is a very sunny, summery song, both relaxing and interesting. Its topic is surrounding a man talking about his relationship with someone else, kind of acknowledging each persons’ past events with other people, and throwing it away to have fun. What makes this song so fun though, is its amazing instrumentation, focusing heavier on the music than the lyrics. Its funky bassline is met with endless synthesizers, and several horn parts to perpetuate the feeling that you should be in 90 degree weather at, well, an Ice Cold Pool, when you listen to this.
The following tracks, “Worlds Apart,” “What You Like,” and “Remember When,” all have their merits. “Worlds Apart” focuses heavily on its lyricism, describing a man in bed, thinking about an ex, and wondering if they’ll ever get back even close to where they were. As well as if she does the same thing. “What You Like” impresses me more in its ability to shift to different sections so easily. It goes from just the vocals and bassline, to the chorus, back, to a really nice, but pretty complex instrumental piece, and finally back to the chorus again, before transitioning to the next song. Plus, the chorus, while basic, and kind of repetitive, is a real catchy one. Speaking of the next track and catchy choruses; “Remember When,” might have the catchiest of them all. Its usage of tempo and synthesizers give it an intense energy, reminiscent of a lot of 80’s pop. And like 80’s pop, I find it very danceable .
Now, onto the last two tracks: the hard-rocking and intense “I’m Full,” followed by the album-ending, methodical “Do Not Wait.” “I’m Full” is about coping with loneliness, abusing whether it’s food or drugs, trying to get away from the screaming “in [his] head.” The chaotic feelings that come with these situations is shown through the usage of a fuzzy, muffled filter over several parts of the song. This combines well with the hefty bassline, and occasional feedback to make an intense, but pretty sad song, whose bits and pieces often remind me of some old grunge.
“Do Not Wait” is a very slow, building track, transitioning directly from the end of “I’m Full.” I find it very similar to “Only In Dreams,” from Weezer’s first album; being incredibly slow, and long compared to the rest of the album, and finally ending in a very long instrumental to lead us toward the end. Most importantly, a cutting and heart-wrenching feeling is brought forth with its real and depressing vocals about many issues that come up, or have come up (I imagine) in your life, that are hard to deal with. And, as the title says, often times, “Nothing Happens” in the end. At the very end, its guitar part is the same as the intro to the first song, “Only Friend,” only this time it is much slower, and sadder; to contrast how upbeat they were at the start.
As an album, Nothing Happens is great. Each track transitions into the next very smoothly, and it’s obvious this isn’t just a collection of singles. This all true despite them using a few old tracks like “I’m Full,” which they wrote several years ago. It’s definitely a peep-hole into the mind of a 20-something-year-old man; which they all are; trying to figure out life. Much like an album I reviewed much earlier, Teens of Denial, it’s relatable to this point in life. And while I don’t think it’s necessarily as good as that album, which is currently my highest I have formally rated, it definitely fends for itself, providing many new and interesting takes, and sounds. I’m thinking an 8/10 for this one. Not perfect, having a couple bad tracks. And not incredibly inventive necessarily. But very very strong nonetheless. Hope you enjoyed and I wonder what you think about it, if you give it a listen.
Favorite Track(s): “Treacherous Doctor,” “Scrawny,” “Ice Cold Pool,” “I’m Full”
Least Favorite Track(s): “Sidelines,” “Are You Bored Yet”