Wow & Flutter – Pounding the Pavement

Wow & Flutter
Pounding the Pavement

Wow & Flutter are sort of the antithesis to Matchbox 20, though not in the way you might expect. The obvious contradiction would be something bland, perhaps comparing Matchbox 20’s obvious merchandising to Wow & Flutter’s relative obscurity. And while that comparison still stands, a better one remains. Try looking at the two bands from a listener’s perspective. Matchbox 20, on one hand, does little for the critical listener. They write verse/chorus/verse modern rock songs, with little emotion or variety. Despite this, they sound excellent to your average listener. Respect them or not, you must admit the Matchbox 20 can write a damn fine, easily digestible, if disposable, pop nugget. On the other hand, Wow & Flutter do everything right, as far as a critic is concerned. They play with noises and sounds. They weave skilled instrumental numbers between quiet, introspective, indie rock stories. So what’s the bad news? Wow & Flutter aren’t that easy to listen to, and I don’t just mean because it’s experimental. It’s “difficult” in the literal sense of the word.
As mentioned above, Wow & Flutter make for some pretty good post rock noise. Songs (?) like “Last Flight 8:15,” and “Electrohome” flirt with the sort of experimental noise prevalent during some of Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s softer moments. “Freezer Burn” is a quiet, nonlinear indie-rock story, and “Longest Holiday” actually features some semblance of a melody. “Breakable Doll” somehow reminds me of Braid, just in terms of how the chords are played. The somber, eerie “Drilling Holes” brings Slint to mind right away, and “Pie” rides propulsive percussion into a near-jazz experiment. The title track is a beautiful set of arpeggiated chords that will chime in your mind for days. “Electrohome” and “Shoeshine” are two relatively short instrumentals that somehow flow together nicely and manage to evoke Mogwai. The closer, “Thin Air,” is an ambient sonic trek that wraps up the album sufficiently.
So what’s not to like, right? Well, for all of their efforts and experiments (especially the experiments), I was never quite sure what the band was trying to accomplish. When Godspeed experiments with sound, it comes out as the calm before the storm. When Aphex Twin does it, its near-genius. When Wow & Flutter do it, well … experimenting with sound is fine, but if it never goes anywhere, it will at least occasionally sound like arty trash (“Last Flight 8:15” is a perfect example of this). There are other flaws as well. For all of its jangling beauty, “Pounding the Pavement” sounds frustratingly restrained. And, on certain listens, acoustic ballads like “Freezer Burn” and “Breakable Doll” sound out of place, like folk-rock throwaways amidst an album of thoughtful sound collages.
But alas, Wow & Flutter are still rather young (Editor Jeff raves about their new EP). Even some of the best artists make early mistakes (honestly now, how many of you can sing along to early Blur? Even early Beck?). This is not to say that Wow & Flutter will become a successful, influential indie rock stalwart, it just says the potential is there. The album has its flaws – inconsistency and indulgent sound experiments to name the most frequent offenders – but for the most part Pounding the Pavement is strong album, worthy certainly of attention if not praise. A little evolving and maturing should do this band wonders. As for now, they’ve got a strong, promising, if inconsistent, LP under their belts. If nothing else, they are the opposite of Matchbox 20 … what more could an upstanding indie act possibly hope for?