Review Summary: Remember to practice safe Tessellation
Imagine with me a nightmare world in which the occult hegemons of the music industry gather in a smoke-filled room in order to formulate a way by which the good-vibes placidity and substanceless jamitudes of the Dave Matthews Band could be marketed successfully to a skeptically hip indie audience. First, sign the band to a self-described indie label (in reality a Warner subsidiary). Get them to cut a record so it can win a celebrated prize that rewards those on the cutting edge of musical development. Make sure everybody in the press calls their music art. It’s a simple formula; so crazy it could work. I tell you, friends, this nightmare is real. And it has a name. Or, at least it has a Mac command.
Far from art or avant-garde, ∆’s “An Awesome Wave” is almost entirely edgeless. It comes in with a breath, goes out with a sigh, and, aside from a few elephant-trunk synthesizers sprinkled here and there, remains entirely tepid throughout. At best, this is experimental elevator music, floating by unobtrusively and failing to connect in any kind of emotional way. Unimaginative lyrics are fed through the gurgling filter of Joe Newman’s schizophrenic vocal chords in the hopes that we’ll attribute the meaninglessness to his scattered mumblings. No dice. “Breezeblocks” is basically an empty recitation of a ‘totally cool’ children’s story. Sorry guys, the movie came out a few years ago. Try and again next time.
This record seems structured to drag, and doesn't even really get started for a good four minutes, chugging painstakingly through a doze-inducing “Intro”, followed, god knows why, by an “Interlude” (the first of three). From this point on, the sort-of-interesting production techniques of yesteryear are applied with mild success to overwhelmingly dull pop songs. When arrangements jump from section to section without signal phrases, it feels less the result of purposeful jaggedness than uninformed songwriting amateurism. Drum lines that have the potential to be exciting quickly become either subdued or annoying. There’s a strange dichotomy in some places between warmed-up reverberations and sharp, metallic lo-fi production that points to a lack of true artistic direction.
In many ways, “An Awesome Wave” takes legitimate trends in forward-thinking music and addresses them incorrectly. Taking queues from African and World music doesn’t mean designing a song primed and ready for inclusion on the soundtrack to Disney’s The Jungle Book 3 (“Dissolve Me”). Nor does it mean mashing up Bollywood dance-numbers with Beach House-y dream pop (“Taro”). Does that sound like it would work? It doesn’t.
Is there a chance ∆ will head back to the drawing board, rethink their strategy, and end up producing something with a bit more humanity and natural quirk? Yes. Do I think it’s going it happen? Probably not. If I end up being wrong, that’s alright. I’ll be happy for them. But for now, “An Awesome Wave” is absolutely worth avoiding, at least to keep that damn “Something Good” out of your head.