Five of Cups by Holy Wave–Album Review
Five of Cups by Holy Wave–Album Review
Five of Cups is the newest LP by Holy Wave, a four-piece band from Austin, Texas, that’s been releasing music since the early part of the last decade. For this release, Holy Wave hasn’t strayed too far from the sound that made them popular: the drifting, atmospheric indie-rock that freshly folds shoegaze and surf into revivalist psychedelia.
The title track begins the album, and it kicks off with the screech of a synthesizer that demands your attention before meandering itself into a depressing story told by a drunkard who lost everything and now finds himself lighting cigarette butts and drinking to excess on the French Riviera. The sadness apparent in the soft chords of the lead guitar contrasts with the siren-like synth in a way that delineates anxious panic on an existential level.
In “Path of Least Resistance”, the band permeates single notes from a synthesizer onto the background of the track, punctuated by what could be a cowbell, as melodic chimes dance in the forefront and lyrics mull over regrets and wasted time.
Like many albums, Five of Cups is not without moments of self-indulgence. Some songs, such as “Nothing is Real”, tend to linger in repetitive patterns that border on monotony. Even within these moments, however, the band’s intention of weaving a deep, trance-like atmosphere through the haze of production and adept execution is evident.
On this LP, Holy Wave saves their best for last. The three tracks that conclude Five of Cups are far and away the most musically complex and interesting tracks on the album, most notably those with guest spots from two acts who’ve released albums this year: Lorelle Meets the Obsolete and Estrella del Sol.
“The Darkest Timeline”, which features the duo Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, is led by synths that pulse and scream over the entirety of the track, backed by a bassline that grooves back and forth underneath soothing vocals from Lorena Quintanilla. The song builds with these elements until breaking into flow when the lead guitar and drums take precedence on the epically dreamy crescendo, where communication between guitar and synth creates a lush soundscape that sets under the momentum of a drum kit and choral performances that, together, emulate dusk. Fittingly, the following track, “Nothing in the Dark”, gets sentimental about finding solace in dimly lit rooms at night over a quirkily arpeggiated lead guitar.
The album wraps on a high note with “Happier” featuring Estrella del Sol. The song spotlights a relentless rhythm guitar, well-accented by the chiming of synths, and a lyrical subject that’s less than optimistic on the substance of living one’s life according to the manifesto of an American dream and sports a protagonist with all his boxes checked but still needs to pop pills for depression. In the album’s final verse, sung in Spanish, the protagonist is urged to stop running and face life in front of him.
The sounds explored on this album are far from anything new or cutting-edge. Everything feels reminiscent of the sound Dan Auerbach, Richard Swift, Lana Del Rey, and Mac Demarco were creating around ten years ago. Five of Cups is the seventh album released by Holy Wave, but they’re not covering new territory here. Apart from retreading old ground, it’s a solid release. However, the fact that it’s Holy Wave that made this album is essentially incidental, as this is the kind of work any alt band in any city could’ve, would’ve, or did make in the mid-10s. So, if you’re looking for vocal performances washed out from an echo effect to the point of being unintelligible while accompanied by routine psychedelic guitar licks and effective use of synth, then Five of Cups will fit the bill.
Related: Holy Wave Bandcamp page