Dead Oceans (2023) US
In a long and emotionally exhausting year of being inside (alone, in my case,) I have found myself thinking about mirrors. How to avoid spending too much time in them, most days. Taking inventory of the real, physical self is difficult work, work that I'm not entirely opposed to but work that became immediately more treacherous for me when I had to witness the very real toll that time, modern anxieties, isolation, and boredom were taking on me. It was easier, it seemed, to spiral into a not-so-distant glorious past, to use memory as a tool of both excitement and healing. But, speaking of excitement, I like to stumble towards a band with no agenda, no purpose, uncovering sound almost on accident. This is how I first heard Wednesday. The band came to me and I don't remember how, or why. They simply arrived, as if we'd been traveling toward each other our whole lives. I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone soaked into my summer of 2020, and in sound, in spirit, in central concerns and the execution of them, it took me back to an era before the current era, which I'd needed at the time. The past can feel less hellish than the present if we are, sometimes, not fully honest with ourselves.
There is the trick of nostalgia that I spend a lot of time playing with in my own writing, and somewhat tormented by in my own living. The very real idea that nostalgia is both a useful tool and also a weapon if it isn't paired with something that approaches a type of rigorous honesty.
But if I may go back to all of these ideas of nostalgia and our old, tricky, past selves that are, indeed, a part of the house of bricks that make up our present self, what I also hope you, listener, might adore about this album is the exact moment at the start of "The Burned Down Dairy Queen" when Karly sings I was hiding in a room in my mind / and I made me take a look at myself. Because if you, like me, have been avoiding mirrors – both metaphorical and real – this is where the album becomes a lighthouse, echoing bright across the darkness of my otherwise dark and empty chambers. So much of these songs meditate on the past in far less romantic ways than I have found myself meditating on the past, and I was desperate for the recalibration that this album provided.
So, yes, the songs are good. You will maybe roll down your windows on a comfortable day on the right stretch of road in a warm season and turn the volume up when "Birthday Song" gets good and loud and sing-along-able. You might sit atop a rooftop at night, closer to the moon than you were on the ground, and let "Ghost Of A Dog" churn and rattle you to some nighttime realization that you couldn't have had in silence.
But, even on top of all of this, on top of all the pleasures and the mercies that the sounds on this album might afford. I hope and think, too, that it will remind anyone who listens that we are a collection of many reflections. All of them deserving patience.