Editors' pick

[Expletive] Up


Editorial Review

“David Comes to Life” is a behemoth on multiple levels. The latest from the hyper-prolific Toronto hard-core band [Expletive] Up is an 80-minute rock opera that weaves a complicated narrative through 18 songs, all of it nearly impossible to comprehend thanks to singer Damian Abraham’s unrelenting, drill-sergeant barking. Yet somehow the album never feels overwhelming. As one song slams into the next, with piles upon piles of guitars screaming as loudly as the singer, it simply feels cathartic and never excessive. Few albums this year will ask for more of your time, but none will return as much on the investment.

As long as Abraham’s full-throated growl remains the band’s focal point, the group will never completely escape its hard-core tag. Breakneck two-minute chargers are a thing of the past, though, replaced with well-manicured, full-bodied alt-rock anthems. Even more than Abraham, it is guitarists Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker and Ben Cook that set the sturdy foundation for the album. The rare triple-guitar attack provides each song with a thick wall of sound built upon churning riffs, twinkling melodies and the occasional searing solo. Whether the moment calls for a blazing blur (“Queen of Hearts”) or a more majestic soundscape (“The Other Shoe”), the trio provides the proper roar.

As far as concept albums go, “David Comes to Life” is minimally pretentious. There are no atmospheric time-wasters, reprises or other indicators that usually announce an album as “epic.” Common themes of lost love and regret are universal enough to make each song work individually. “We’re running on nothing / The fumes of our dreams / At another point in my life / That was good enough for me,” Abraham shouts on “Running on Nothing.” Coming from Abraham, even that resignation is life-affirming. It’s a fist-pumping chorus set to air-guitar heroics, and there are 17 more songs just as thrilling.

— David Malitz, June 7, 2011

Nathan Williams is not a complicated dude. The 24-year-old San Diego indie rocker, who records as Wavves, is mostly obsessed with the beach and just generally chillaxin'. His first two albums were especially uncomplicated - two chords per song, extra fuzzy GarageBand home recordings and, voila, he's the toast of blogville. Well, at least until the backlash hit.

"King of the Beach" is his largely successful attempt to escape the lo-fi foxhole. Brawny guitars replace staticky screeches, juicy hooks don't have to fight through muddy murk and the result sounds like a time capsule from mid-'90s alternative rock radio instead of a stoned kid killing time in his bedroom. The latter has its charms but Williams's songs are better served with this new dynamic kick.

He's even working the Gen X angst angle, peppering his tunes with self-loathing lyrics. "My own friends hate my guts / So what, who gives a [expletive]?" he moans on "Green Eyes." It's hard to buy Williams as completely miserable; he's always been a bit of a downer but likely just got bored with singing about being bored. Now he has more in common with the aw-shucks depression of Blink-182, both musically and lyrically.

Wavves' wheelhouse is still centered around pop-punk nuggets such as the title track, but his reach has expanded to include percussion-heavy, blippier fare ("Mickey Mouse," "Baseball Cards") without sacrificing any instant gratification. It's hard to argue Williams is growing up, but he is certainly getting better.

--David Malitz, July 13, 2010