Monday, July 16, 2018

Still Run | Wet

Prior to this month's release of Wet’s second studio record, The Chicago Tribune published a profile of front woman Kelly Zutrau under the title, “Kelly Zutrau is back in control of Wet, and that’s good.” Though awkwardly conversational, the title hints at the transitional power struggle that came after the three-piece band released a major label debut album to a critical yawn and toured it across the globe. Wet have since shrunk a member amid hesitations of continuing the project, and in hindsight, Zutrau has hinted in interviews that their songs were too homogenous and that label pressures and her band mates pushed her into certain directions, though Don’t You remains a charming alternative pop record. 

Their second record, Still Run, is the portrait of a band caught in the crossfires of a premature transition. With Zutrau now squarely at the helm and Joe Valle in a supporting role, Wet seem driven to rebel against what once was, even if for only a portion of the record. They introduced this chapter with "There’s a Reason," both anthemic and upbeat – two words that never would have been used to describe the band circa 2013. The too-cool and old-school "You’re Not Wrong" keeps up with the pitter-patter of drums while Zutrau’s voice sounds as if a few sheets of copy paper were slid between her mouth and the microphone, muffling its usual quivers and chokes.

New Wet's sensibilities, though jarring upon first listen, shimmer in their own rights. When the worlds of New Wet and Old Wet collide, however, the true magic ensues. "Lately," perhaps the band’s best track to date, sounds like a signature Wet track, but it, in part, takes aim at the band itself: “Oh, I use up my energy just to make sure that you know you’re important. And you never like how my song sounds, but you give nothing of yourself,” Zutrau sings toward her band mates and business partners amid general frustrations in her professional career and personal life. And on "11 Hours," her voice rips into the lyrics in agony over a painful relationship (with a person, with the band, with music... who knows?) that she just can't shake.

Moments like "11 Hours" and the title track, a side-stepping acoustic track with a yearning vocal line, prove the record to be much more moving than most have recognized thus far. "Softens," a sprawling six-minute vanity track, is nothing if not mesmerizing; although it does not convey the personal metamorphosis that many tracks here do, it listens as Zutrau's beautiful escape from her band's impending implosion. Her anxiety is splattered across the record's first half, before she flips her script and gives into love: "This Woman Loves You" is a quaint track regarding blind love, and "Visitor" is over five minutes of Zutrau offering herself as a home for her emotionally lost partner, even if the first half of Still Run suggests she needs an emotional grounding first.

Despite being the vehicle for some of the best tracks in the band's short discography, Still Run surely doesn't present Wet in their final form. Within its 10 tracks, Wet are very much caught up in, well, being Wet. Zutrau is tangled in her own existence as a friend, a lover, and a musician, and what comes of those struggles is an album that is both gorgeous and directionless. Aside from Zutrau's gains in assertion, the record struggles to find a forward motion – and that's okay this time around. Memorializing what could have spelled disaster for the promising young band, it does as its centerfold track promises: Beauty radiates from the record, softening the band's grief track by track until it puts the turmoil to sleep with a final lullaby.

Still Run is out via Columbia Records.

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