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Wallowing through Wallows’ ‘Remote’

| Friday, November 6, 2020

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

I hated Wallows, then I loved them and now I’m indifferent.

With the surge of indie bands getting their musicians from teenage Netflix shows and vice versa, I admittedly judged Wallows — and Dylan Minnette — before I gave them a chance. I gave them my first sincere listen while Maria Leontaras, our lovely Editor-in-Chief, went through a phase of playing nothing but indie music videos on YouTube’s autoplay on her TV. This leads to the most conflicting aspect of Wallows’ latest album “Remote”: I cannot tell if the videos for this album were made to promote the album or if the album was made in order to make the videos. This chicken-and-the-egg battle would be less confusing if the album held its own, but it doesn’t. 

EPs offer unique opportunities for artists to explore new ideas and maybe apply a new concept to their work. “Remote” only does this on the surface. The inclusion of four music videos for the one single, six song album makes me wonder if the purpose of the album was to explore their limits visually, not musically. The album alone falls flat.

I disliked Wallows for their occasionally pandering, quirky lyrics and their intentionally lo-fi sound that seems to value style over substance. They seem to adapt to the “indie boy culture” that surrounds them on social media instead of producing a style of their own. I thought I was wrong about this when I heard their painfully sincere approach to songwriting on tracks like “Drunk on Halloween” and the 6 minute, 31 second trip that is “Do Not Wait.” This release had none of that, opting instead to lean into the parts of the band that I disliked the most. Both their music and their videos attempt a DIY look that’s trendy in indie music. A style developed by bands actually trying to stay independent and uninfluenced is lost on one of the most popular American boy bands.

With the popularity of K-pop, Wallows’ focus on music videos worries me. As more and more K-pop groups put out extravagant and expensive videos, the irony of Wallows taking on a low-budget look for their clearly well-funded pursuit isn’t as funny as it is, well, insulting. I wonder if American record companies are trying to move back to producing music that caters to 4 minute, lavish videos instead of an epic and deep listening experience. Wallows’ lack of personal identity makes me especially worried that they will pick the road of quirky pop songs with colorful videos instead of choosing to make tracks that perfectly describe the anxiety of being young. This fear may be a projection of my own pretentiousness. They should be just as free to make albums full of color and happiness as they are to make their other stuff.

Remote” may not be symbolizing doom to all music, but it still kind of sucks. It sounds like they care so deeply about not caring and being cool that their attempt at making something actually cool became corny and stylistically boring. The songs are meant to flow into each other, often repeating a guitar riff or sound from an earlier track. This makes it hard to listen to the album more than once without becoming bored and tired. It’s full of funny tracks that cater to playlist culture, but the album lacks an identifiable voice. “Remote” will play an important role in Wallows’ discography, providing interesting breaks in what I hope will be an important part of history. But as a stand-alone album, it’s uninteresting and unimpressive.

The videos are objectively good, so go watch them. They are clever and often try to be funny in an adorable way. This collection of videos moves away from their more clean-cut look. They are the quintessential American boy band, picking up and putting down instruments while trading lead vocals and writing responsibility from one member to another. “Remote” made me realize that maybe Wallows isn’t my favorite new band, but there is still a chance they might be. 

Artist: Wallows

Album: “Remote”

Label: Atlantic Records

Favorite track: “Dig What You Dug,” “Coastlines”

If you like: Peach Pit, Declan McKenna

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

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