I discovered The Wave Pictures when I volunteered to cover, for another illustrious internet publication, Brooklyn Vegan’s pre-SXSW party at the Knitting Factory. At first it was pretty much as expected: swarms of overzealous photographers, PBR sponsorship, lots of dazed-looking but pretty people, an opening act that was competent but forgettable. Nothing to complain about, but also nothing to really justify all the hullaballoo. I often have this feeling at shows, especially shows where higher-level or hyped bands are playing and something of grand significance is supposedly going on. It’s a natural reaction, I think, after reading so much fawning praise of bands, to see them live or hear a song and think “this is it?” This tends, for me, to lead to lots of abstract and bloated pondering about whether the world really needs this many god damned rock bands and what the hell we’re all doing standing in this room on a Monday night not talking to each other and just sort of waiting for something to happen.
Then The Wave Pictures came on and I forgot all about that. Instantly. It may sounds like I am setting up some sort of self-convincing journalistic hyperbole in which The Wave Pictures are the saviors of modern music. I am not. Modern music is just fine. What The Wave Pictures are is a really fantastic live band made up of three men from London who are talented and instantly likable and who possess an amazing ability to make you smile. They also saved me from my own mind and turned my Monday night into a really lovely evening. When I said in the other Illustrious Internet Publication that I didn’t know when the last time was that I saw so many people beaming at an indie rock show, I was telling the truth. Partly, this was due to frontman David Tattersall’s wonderfully witty lyrics (take the song, for example, in which he starts the chorus with the lines I hate your mother and I hate your father, correcting them on the second go round to okay, I don’t really hate your mother, but I really hate your father), which come rapid-fire and display his talent for coaxing serious emotion out of details that are mundane enough to be completely believable. The first song they played at the Knitting Factory had me perplexed at first, with lyrics about two lovers holed up in an apartment doing things like melting chocolate on cookies and writing their names on banana peels, which sounded inconsequential until I heard the line where he discovers “how boring we’d become” , which revealed to me that the song was actually about how inconsequential those acts are, about the stuffy ennui of a failing relationship.
The band is a trio, composed of guitarist/songwriter Tattersall (who can rip some unbelievable solos live but tends to refrain on record), bassist Franic Rozycki and drummer Jonny Helm, and their live and recorded association with songwriters like David-Ivar Herman Dá¼ne (of Herman Dá¼ne) and John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats) makes immediate sense and will help you to place them on the band spectrum. All three acts are notable for complex but direct lyrics delivered over relatively unadorned pop songs (The Wave Pictures strike a rock’n’roll/early punk balance that recalls Jonathan Richman), and all three feature singers whose flawed voices suit their songs perfectly: Darnielle’s nasality makes his vivid stories more disarming and affecting than a drippy croon would; Dá¼ne’s accented English only enhances his naá¯ve sincerity (especially when he sings “baybeh” ) ; and Tattersall’s dryly vibrato’d voice fits his Oscar Wilde witty self-destructiveness perfectly.
A-side “Just Like a Drummer” , from the band’s Moshi Moshi debut Instant Coffee Baby, is a lovely, lazy pop song, the kind in which The Wave Pictures specialize, complete with strumming that’s muted on the backbeats and charmingly amateurish gang vocals that lend the end of the song an air of hugeness without overwhelming the song (the WPs songs are full of this kind of vocals; they sound like a first take of a bunch of friends clustered half-drunk around a microphone). It’s a perfect compliment to the balmy weather we’ve been having lately, and while the lyrics are surprisingly inscrutable for a Wave Pictures song (they appear to be about living with a writer) they contain some really striking images. The longing in the idea of falling for a woman glimpsed not even on the street but on the street in a film carries a lot of melancholic weight, and the image of the morning sun as a pack of orange spaniels nosing and squirming through the room precisely conveys the irritation of being woken up unwillingly by the sun. Also, the rhythmic cadence of a line like “the whites, the wine and the weed” is immensely pleasurable. The naturalness with which Tattersall manages to toss these things off is almost the most impressive part.
B-side “Strawberry Cables” also manages to be intriguingly oblique, melding what appear to be images of a lonely fat kid eating candy in front of the TV (a lifetime without hips has two potential meanings here) with a chorus that makes the whole thing sound like a song of lost love. The line the world might hate me but it revolves around me now is one of the little revelatory moments that Tattersall excels at slipping into his songs, encapsulating the impulse nearly every aimless act of teenage violence. What’s most arresting about this song is the melody of the chorus, which is full of both melancholy and determination, underscored by the gentle and marchlike brushwork and bassline. It sounds as if it ought to gently parade along forever.
Between songs at the live set, the band expressed their utter relief at finding themselves back in civilization after four days in Florida (this immediately endeared them to me, Florida being the only state in this lovely country I don’t much care for). They’d played a rockabilly bar the night before for about five people, and a woman had come up to Tattersall before the show and said, What kind of music do you guys play? Is it country or rockabilly? as if those were the only two types of music that existed. They were thrilled to play and we were thrilled to listen, and that’s all you could ask for to banish heavy questions about the meaning of live rock shows. And you’re in luck. They’re coming to your town soon. You should go give them an audience; they will make your Monday night.
Just Like A Drummer
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem083/01 Just Like A Drummer.mp3
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem083/02 Strawberry Cables.mp3