Saturday, October 23, 2021

Review: Letter Blue • Wet

The story of Wet is also one of power dynamics. When the trio premiered its debut album under Columbia Records in 2016, Wet had been under the internet’s watch for three years. Expectations were built around just four songs from a 2013 extended play – a more colorful, but no more valuable, collection than the dream pop-adjacent direction that Don’t You would take. The album got smacked for being too meandering and conservative in exploring its influences. Lead singer Kelly Zutrau took the helm of the seemingly captain-less band after the record’s release, and by their next album, Wet was down a member. The resulting Wet, captured on 2018’s Still Run, magnified their music’s organic, acoustic bedrock. Believing it is the better of the first two Wet records, I reside in the minority: Media criticism of the band had dampened from a few dozen publications to just a handful, and none of them were satisfied with the “plate of buttered noodles” served to them. For the record, I love Still Run and buttered noodles.

Today, Wet is a trio again, with guitarist Marty Sulkow rejoining Zutrau and producer Joe Valle for their third album, Letter Blue. Together, the three reimagine Wet into an alternate musical timeline – one in which the band further indulges widescreen electronic backgrounds and snappy drums, allowing those elements to become the prominent musical foundation rather than supplemental supports. Dreamier songs like “On Your Side” are merely heat-warped in their underbelly, while progressive takes on Wet’s sound (“Blades of Grass,” the garage homage “Only One”) almost sidestep everything we know about the band. Zutrau’s voice, airy and feathered around the edges, remains the steady ripple across the surface, even when it’s over-processed and zapped through the risky album closer “Larabar.” In the closing moments of the song, Zutrau is caught in a vacuum: Instrumentation is sucked backward. Time rewinds itself like a rented video. Wounds begin to heal. The band is reset for the next act.

The three have produced some of their most interesting music yet, but Letter Blue still catalogs and processes a range of residual emotions from the band’s recent past. “I decide I need you, I need you, I need you in my life. There’s nothing more that’s on my mind,” Zutrau says on “Clementine,” the closest we tread toward a Wet dance track aside from “Bound,” the album’s one headland stained in Blood Orange. Standout cut “Far Cry,” though, emphasizes much more complex feelings and faults behind a fallout: “Always forever, I’ll relive your effort. You could’ve told me to stop. And I should have told you, but you never listen. Now we’re just left here to pick up the pieces.” Whether it’s considered balance or imbalance, shifting emotions are splattered across the record, sometimes all at once. And it all stems from a restored equilibrium in Wet – a band that, even when delivering a somewhat unlevel and transitional record, always manages to suspend their music in the eye of a magnificent emotional storm.

Letter Blue is available now under Other Exotica.

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