On the face of it, it might not seem particularly remarkable that Wave Machines’ debut record, Wave If You’re Really There, flew almost entirely under the radar back in 2009; an endearingly eccentric effort that veered between irresistible indie pop and more pensive slow burners, it was by no means that year’s most obvious crossover candidate. That said, the subsequent success of some of their contemporaries should give them great encouragement ahead of the release of second LP Pollen; Wild Beasts, another band reliant on textured soundscapes and soaring falsettos, have cemented their position as indie darlings of the day since Wave Machines were last around, whilst Everything Everything and Dutch Uncles have proved that the public appetite for unconventional approaches to indie-pop is perhaps sharper than you might think.
It’s clear from the off that there’s no intention to temper the experimental nature of the sound that Wave Machines established on their first record with Pollen; if anything, opener ‘Counting Birds’ hints at expansion on that front – it’s a stormy, downbeat affair, with uncharacteristically low key vocals from Tim Bruzon underpinned by menacing synths. Like its predecessor, Pollen veers between a range of styles, but the lines are drawn far less clearly this time – rather than straight switches between the upbeat and the melancholy as before, the band move to bring both sides of their musical personality together throughout the record, with mixed results.
‘Ill Fit’ and ‘Blood Will Roll’ are triumphs, the latter driven by crashing, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows‘-esque drums that build towards a satisfactorily frenetic climax. It sets a template that the rest of the record follows, but not always successfully; ‘I Hold Loneliness’ sounds like a slower, more sluggish version of Animal Collective’s ‘My Girls‘, and the quick tempo of ‘Gale’ feels compromised by the sheer volume of instrumentation. Often, the overlapping synths on the record lend the songs a dense quality that smothers the vocals, which might explain why, commercially speaking at least, they find themselves lagging behind similarly eccentric peers like Wild Beasts and Everything Everything. Those bands allow the unusual vocal style to take centre stage and build songs around it, but on Pollen, the vocals often seem treated as an afterthought, drowned in a sea of electronic noise. For a band like Wave Machines, less can so often be more, and nothing proves this point quite like the record’s gorgeous closer, ‘Sitting in a Chair, Blinking’; sparse and restrained in its instrumentation, it gives the vocals a little room to breathe, with startlingly effective results.
Irrespective of opinion, Wave Machines’ faith in their own experimental style and apparent refusal to entertain outside ideas of what might amount to a more commercially viable sound is to be commended. There are moments of brilliance on Pollen that are more than enough to point to promise in future releases, and there’s plenty of room for more alt-pop bands; exercising a little more restraint might launch them into the popular appreciation that’s so far eluded them.