WET’S DEBUT LP, Don’t You, feels like a series of pop ballads laid end to end. That’s not to say that these are all slow or sad songs. That’s a common album form and easier to get through. Don’t You songs are specifically in the genus of pop ballad; that realm of mass appeal, but dangerously corny, lovelorn poetry. The vocal melodies especially are defined by this, with forms and structures that sound right out of some late 90s pop and R&B playbook.
This vibe converges on a song like “Weak”, which features classic moves like padding lyrics with “Oh baby/baby/baby.” There’s also opening track “It’s All In Vain”, which could easily play the part of the slow song for any number of divas past. But those artists made those songs work with the strength and barely-restrained dramatic power of their voice. They were convincing. Wet’s Kelly Zutrau sings in that edgeless, clean, and almost lethargic affectation that works so well for Banks, or in its most extreme form, the xx, because they turn it into part of a mood. The difference in how Wet uses it is subtle, but it matters.Too often, the moods are just sweet or shallow.
Despite conjuring up song styles of 1997, these tracks don’t trade in nostalgia. They aren’t homages, or attempts at capturing a cache of retro cool. Wet’s referential melodies land in a dead zone of things that aren’t old enough to feel counter-cultural, but not recent enough to feel fresh. During the album’s most forgettable moments, there is a creeping realization that if it isn’t playing off of nostalgia, it might just be regressive.
Most of that doesn’t apply to the production, which, to its credit, crafts pretty moments in almost every song. But even that has cracks in it. When paired up with thin lyricism and conventional themes, they just seem like signifiers of modern cool rather than creative decisions that end up being modern and cool. Voices, guitars, and ambient synths are deployed in all the ways you expect, seemingly because that’s what James Blake or Caribou or Jamie xx or Lorde do with their voices, guitars, and ambient synths. It might sound good, but it’s hardly satisfying.
Don’t You gets better towards the end, although it might be too little too late. “Move Me” ends in a nice vocal cascade that is worth experiencing. “Body” stalks around the listener in engaging ways and lays down exciting sonic layers. “These Days” is almost a jazzy pop piano ballad that really understands and channels its own drama.
These songs make me hesitant to stamp the album as entirely skippable. But ultimately, it just doesn’t convince me of anything; not its artistic ambitions or the weight of its heartbreak. The only thing that comes through is that it’s competent. That’s enough to be pretty, but it still has the unremarkable safety of a band that hasn’t broken through to find a distinct voice. C