Review Summary: See you on the other side.
Patrick Watson has not had an easy four years. He lost his mother and his best friend. He went through a hardening divorce. As Watson will valiantly insist, however, that’s not interesting – what is
, is hitting the reset button and discovering yourself in a whole new light. Wave
is the product of his personal and professional maturation, an evolved Love Songs for Robots
that flourishes with warmth despite clear evidence of heartache. It’s an elegiac nod to the past that ultimately triumphs by celebrating the infinite capacity of the present. Watson overcomes grief and sets upon his journey forward with a breathtaking soundscape comprised of slow, building progressions that explode into sweeping melodies; all of this wrapped in the gorgeous trappings of pastoral dream-pop. Wave
is an album that immediately engages your ears and slowly wins over your heart.
Make no mistake: this is Watson’s magnum opus. It’s lo-fi, although it sounds anything but sparse. Watson’s vocals permeate the room with desperation, while synths rise and fall so subtly that by the time a track reaches its emotional apex, you’re not sure how you arrived at that point. Piano keys ring out with a glass-tinged, reflective smoothness that causes them to sound as if they’re being played in a roofless cathedral beneath a starlit sky. Scattered warbles fade in and out of focus like a voice yearning to be heard from a dimension barely beyond our reach. Gorgeous female vocals chime in on ‘Wild Flowers’ and ‘Drive’ like angels descending upon Watson’s own person hell. Drums thump quietly, but with a definitive sense of finality. Strings punctuate his most poignant confessions, but never threaten to draw attention away from the sullen content. Wave
is texturally and aesthetically jaw-dropping, perfected by an artist who clearly took his time accentuating the beauty and sadness of every moment.
The go-to comparison any time an album is born out of personal tragedy seems to be Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell
, and while there are emotional parallels (both artists lost their mothers), this record is obviously a different musical breed. Still, it helps to paint Wave
in this same light in order to convey the significance of the work both musically (this is his most beautifully refined product) as well as personally (the total emotional transparency). There’s an aching sincerity to this album that previous works have achieved during key moments, but that Wave
somehow maintains from front to end. It’s also Watson’s saddest sounding record – although certain lyrical passages do offer hope – and one that’s intangibles are matched by Wave
’s musical cohesion. It all feels unified in a way that many records do not, and while stunning instrumentals/electronics fade in and out of the mix, they all fall under a similar stylistic canopy – like differing constellations within the same celestial sphere. Only truly great albums have the ability to concoct their own aura; this mystical and magical dwelling that anyone can retreat to. It’s another way that this record finds itself overlapping with other classics – you can play a clip of any song from this record and it’s instantly recognizable as a Wave
is yet another example of an artist’s torment resulting in an exceptional work of art. Watson is impressive in his ability to balance the gut wrenching (“I never thought you'd ever really be gone, but I still sing along to yesterday's song”) with the hopeful (“Here comes the river over the flames”), but the prevailing aura here is surely dispirited. On some levels it feels wrong to benefit from it as a consumer, but when the output is this spellbindingly brilliant, it’s perhaps the greater sin to leave it go unappreciated. For what might be one of the last truly tragic indie albums of the decade, Wave
is a laudable send-off as we bury our wounds and look towards the horizon with a glistening eye. We’ll see you on the other side.