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Wet - Still Run Music Album Reviews

The alt-R&B duo’s second album remains preoccupied with breakups, but these stories of separation and loss are rendered so dispassionately, it’s hard to feel invested in their outcomes.

What’s popular music without its staple, the breakup album? Alt-R&B outfit Wet, the duo of Brooklynites Kelly Zutrau and Joe Valle, are great champions of the form: Still Run is their second album and also their second contribution to the tradition. Following 2016’s Don’t You, a collection of languid songs about heartbreak, this record is the product of an arduous internal rift that culminated in 2017 with the departure of founding member Marty Suklow. Loosely interpreted, most of the songs on Still Run are as applicable to Suklow’s split as they are to actual romance, making it something of a double-layered breakup album. Unfortunately, the record does little justice to the drama that surrounds any sort of separation, whether creative or romantic.

There are plenty of things that should be working in Wet’s favor here, not least of which is the cast of collaborators they’ve assembled. Ubiquitous pop producer-at-large Rostam Batmanglij helms two of the 10 songs; Andrew Sarlo, who last year produced Big Thief’s stunning sophomore record, handles another four. R&B crooner Starchild & the New Romantic lends his voice to the title track, and Lykke Li also makes an appearance. As Zutrau tells it, Still Run contains some of the group’s most accomplished work to date, and, to their credit, they have made moves towards overcoming one of Don’t You’s major shortcomings: its struggle to break out of a downtempo daze. But despite its starpower and self-generated hype, Still Run ends up being something about as adventurous—and nourishing—as a plate of buttered noodles.

Lyrically, more often than not, these songs are frustratingly uncreative. Though the record centers on conflict, Zutrau, in her role as narrator, may as well be a friend of a friend of the person who actually lived through it: She recounts these stories of separation, grief, and recovery with such scant detail or apparent emotion that it’s hard to feel invested in their outcomes. Throughout, she readily turns to canned metaphor. In “There’s a Reason,” some instability (the actual tenor remains elusive) is described as a rhythm “just out of time.” Several tracks later Zutrau pleads, “life without you” is “like a note sung out of tune.” Behind her hackneyed words, a steady stream of unfussy piano chords and tidy percussion do little to elevate the listening experience.

There are a few moments when the ear perks up. At the beginning of “This Woman Loves You,” one of Rostam’s wards, he pushes Zutrau’s voice through a hazy filter and pairs it with wily country-inflected slide guitar; the effect contains hints of the same genre-smashing quirkiness that made the producer’s work with Haim so delightful. Unfortunately, the track still ends up being one of Still Run’s worst offenders. It lauds the flag and quotes “America the Beautiful” (“This woman loves you/From sea to shining sea”), likening romantic love to love of country—an effort that seems woefully miscalculated at a time when Wet’s base probably feels minimally patriotic.

Another bright spot appears in “Love Is Not Enough.” This final song, if a bit plodding, is at least intriguing. Its opening piano melody gives off haunted music-box vibes, and Zutrau’s voice, multi-tracked and so thin as to be almost translucent, approximates the sound of a gang of ghosts playing Ring Around the Rosie. For the first time on the record, strings are used to some emotional end, rather than as pure decoration, as they shudder in time with Zutrau’s fraught realization about love’s impermanence. The song leaves you to wonder why those that preceded it couldn’t have drawn more from its playbook. Regrettably, just as love is not enough to sustain a union, these few compelling moments are not enough to carry an album’s worth of fluff.

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