Review Summary: So fall in line, or pay the price.
It was 7 years before Wives dropped this brief EP that they released their only other material, a 30 minute tutorial in unyielding, youthful ferocity and boisterous discord entitled Erect the Youth Problem
. But where Wives’ debut was an organic and crude cacophony of a lo-fi punk-hardcore dance, driven and intensely charged by a rebellious vocalist screaming proverbs formed of youthful defiance and soapbox fervor, Wives
seems to be a different beast entirely, and in just about every regard. The production is actually palpable; on pretty much every track the glossier (this term is incredibly relative – it’s not Kurt Ballou produced, but it’s not nearly as opaque as it was on Erect the Youth Problem
) production is almost immediately noticeable, adding a more refined element to the music that makes it more smoothly digestible. Music-wise, the emphasis on scathing, throaty assertions of the adolescent spirit has been severely mitigated, and the previously disjointed and occasionally misguided instrumentation has found direction and cohesion. The near decade between releases has aged the band quite a bit, but on their eponymous EP, Wives have very clearly crawled out from the same toxic lake of murky, dense acid from whence their first foray found life, dripping with the thick, grimy guitar tones and burdened by the calamitous, thrashing drums that their raw debut comprised in an unfortunately underwhelming capacity.
Album opener “Sick Fetish” sets the tone and pace for Wives on the EP, opening with a dense, slow-churned pseudo-riff that introduces a different, harsher element to Wives’ sound – the band isn’t quite so reserved; the drums crash thunderously and there is prominent down-tuned guitarwork, while vocalist Dean Sprunt’s previously tempered punk shouts have devolved into an unapologetic and frenzied howl, leading the band’s departure from its patently punk vibe in favor of a coarse, almost experimental hardcore edge. Pigeonholing aside though, Wives
brings a more musical sensibility to the group’s sound – there are actual melodic atmospheres and fret-changes to be found here, and the more dynamic sound makes for a quick and enjoyable listen. But where the first two tracks offered some semblances of calculated melody amongst their bombast and undeniably charming cries of “I will kick you down the stairs” and “We want more, we get bored” that almost certainly serve as crowd-belting live show centerpieces, “Tough Love” is a much less controlled flame, scorching through the dry, thick brush of the rumbling, abyssal guitar and barking drumwork with negligible abandon as a black, heavy smoke of densely layered backtrack envelops the now claustrophobic chasm and impairs all senses until only the belligerent, barbaric roar of “I don’t care about what you know, you should only speak when spoken to” derisively echoes throughout the charred hollow. It’s the band’s most definitively hardcore
production, in every sense of its forever-obscured meaning, and it’s the easy highlight of Wives’ “new” sound.
Given the dearth of new material from Wives, there are only a few gripes that hold their latest EP back from being an exceptionally strong release. The first and most obvious one is a qualm that most reviewers seem to have with bands that take a considerable amount of time between releases (it should be noted here that the boys in Wives spent several years making music with other groups between their two releases as Wives, which perhaps lends this argument a bit more potency), that there isn’t enough evidence that the time has impacted the sound in any commensurate capacity. Furthermore, if there is any maturation that has occurred in the seven years between Wives’ releases, Wives
didn’t give us nearly enough material to observe a significant evolution or any perceptible musical advancement. The EP showed little more than a mild proclivity towards a slightly less discordant sound and a sharper instrumental input, and the group is still making the same statements they were making in 2004, but although the band’s dabbling in new musical territory isn’t necessarily anything indicative of a transformation or musical transcendence, it does seem a bit more focused and is certainly a less tedious listen – and when it’s on, it’s really on. And actually, the only time it doesn’t seem to be “on” is during album closer “Pink Triangle”, which harkens back to the group’s old sound and is a return to form of sorts, but it ends up being an overlong and drawn out instance of Erect the Youth Problem
that ends up being more dull than affecting in its rigid musical framework and empty bluster. But despite these minor, contentious missteps, Wives
is a fun and strong hardcore release that, despite its brevity, brings a bold taste of what could come next for the band.