Wow & Flutter – Names

This is the kind of music I live for these days. Loud, angry, intense music still has a place, of course, but I find myself more and more listening to softer music, music that conveys a deep mood as well or better than the lyrics. Had I reviewed Names before the end of the year, it may have made my top-10 list. This band has such an ability to create deep, intricate, moody songs that listening to their albums is like taking a trip – it’s an extremely visceral experience.
Their fifth full-length album, Names is perhaps the most moody release from Portland, Oregon’s Wow & Flutter. Filled with reverbed guitars, stark cello, intricate rhythms, and soaring atmospherics, the band manages to create a dark and thick feel, layering in sounds that sweep throughout these songs effortlessly, heard one second and gone the next. The songs are long and intricate, resembling the more climactic moments of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor! at times, while the use of vocals and emphasis on guitars gives the band a bit of a slow-core feel that can give you a sense of the 4AD days of Red House Painters. It’s an intriguing mix that works surprisingly well.
The opener, “Amber,” has such a dark, ominous feel, beginning with “In a soft light, your reflection is a ghost,” and led by some stark cello and atmospherics. The vocals themselves flow in and out, mixed well to the fore but not overbearing at the least, fitting the music perfectly. As that song fades out, “Careful” comes in with perhaps the most upbeat and least overbearing song on the album. It’s lighter, softer, taking a more slow-core approach only rich with cello and guitars and what sounds like horns under chiming guitar lines. Back to their darker approach, “Modern Primitives” starts out like a bad dream with stark noises blurring the boundaries of an instrumental approach, but the song fades into one of the band’s most intense climaxes, riding intensifying percussion and guitars while the cello drifts underneath. The vocals don’t come in until the five-minute mark, and by then the song has settled down, flowing steadily and picking up again into another of the band’s regular climaxes.
The band continues their moody offerings throughout the remainder of the album, drifting from dark and oppressive (“Vincent”) to light and dreamy (“Megan”). “Paula” virtually explodes by the ending with driving, layered guitars hurtling to a climactic purge. And the eight-minute “Bluer Than” uses chiming keyboards and guitar, light rhythm, and that beautiful cello to create a wonderful track, waxing and waning and flowing beautifully.
The production on Wow & Flutter’s albums has always been stellar, and their work in the studio is in large part the reason for their ability to craft moody soundscapes based around a pop song. There are assorted sounds heard here and there, new ones with every listen, and the vocals fit the music brilliantly. The end result is an effortless feeling album that flows from start to finish, filled with deep beauty and stark moodiness. It’s a wonderful release, and I highly recommend listening to it with headphones.