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Wax Chattels - Wax Chattels Music Album Reviews

Wax Chattels - Wax Chattels Music Album Reviews
Billing itself as a “guitarless guitar band,” the New Zealand noise-rock trio endeavors to make bass, keyboard, and two-piece drum kit sound as loud as possible.

Wax Chattels bill themselves as a “guitarless guitar band,” which is a shorter way of saying that they make loud, taut noise rock without one of its customary ingredients: electric guitar. Instead, the Auckland, New Zealand, trio spends most of its debut album trying to find exactly how many different ways it can make a bass, keyboard, and two-piece drum kit sound as loud as possible. For most bands, that would just mean cranking all their instruments into the red as a way to mask any potential sonic holes. Wax Chattels certainly know how to do this with ease. Album opener “Concrete” is blunt and to the point: Each instrument cuts in and out with increasing frequency, starting and stopping until it all blurs together into a cavalcade of noise. “NRG” could break apart at any moment, the drums nothing but snare rolls and cymbal crashes by the end, paired with raw, organ-like squeals from a keyboard that sounds like it’s on the verge of short-circuiting.

The album’s frantic and frenetic nature may stem from the circumstances of its creation. Wax Chattels recorded their debut album—the first material they ever put to tape—in just two days, with sessions stretching until four in the morning, and nearly all of it was recorded live. Yet there is more at play than just nervousness and sleep deprivation. The musicians, who met while attending jazz school at Auckland University, know not to just repeatedly hit the listener over the head with a barrage of oversaturated distortion. Dips into airy psychedelia on “X-Files” tribute “Gillian” and Damaged Bug-esque pop on “Parallel Lines” help keep the album from becoming one-note.

Even more than loudness, the album’s defining characteristic is its undercurrent of acidity. Lots of bands are loud without letting bleakness or bitterness in, but Wax Chattels fully embrace both. As cheeky as it might be for a band to sing about “shrinkage,” dig deeper and something darker is at play, from the buzz-saw bass lines to the casual way Peter Ruddell manages to infuse a “Seinfeld” catchphrase with such spite. Singing the titular chorus of “Stay Disappointed,” the band’s resignation is palpable in a way only those leaving their twenties could fully understand. It all comes to a head with the closing track, “Facebook,” a lurching, static, borderline sludgy attack on social media and its dehumanizing nature. It’s the album’s weakest moment, feeling a little too much like another snarky op-ed written about those dang millennials. But it does serve to crystalize Wax Chattels’ larger viewpoint: The world is an ugly place, so why not make noise that reflects that?

Noise rock doesn’t always lend itself to variation; that Wax Chattels so gracefully maneuver within the self-imposed limitations of the genre is commendable. Their debut doesn’t dwell in darkness, but it does understand it. They clearly had fun, in the most twisted sense of the word, crafting something harsh and driving. It’s a concentrated sour gumdrop of a record, melting a small hole in your mouth before giving any relief. But that pain is part of the point.

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