Wallows, the boy band with a Hollywood pedigree (frontmen/guitarists Dylan Minnette and Braedan Lemasters are busy with their acting careers when not in the studio) is currently making waves on the festival circuit; this past weekend saw packed shows at Coachella, filled with youthful crowds already singing along to their recent debut album Nothing Happens.
Raised on classic rock and formerly known as The Narwhals, these guys have been playing together for nearly 10 years--pretty impressive, seeing that the oldest member is 23. Even more impressive, perhaps, was the hype surrounding this debut disc. Sure, there was a stellar EP released last year called Spring, and of course the sizeable fame of Minnette, who stars on Netflix’s smash hit 13 Reasons Why, but there was an almost frenzied anticipation online for Nothing Happens (the band currently sits at 350K followers on Instagram, pretty solid, given their first album is not yet a month old).
But Wallows didn't rush their arrival onto the music scene. Between their early tryout as the Narwhals, last year’s Spring EP and a string of singles, it would seem Nothing Happens was years in the making. It became evident as the first tracks began to drop that Wallows didn’t want to pull the trigger until the product was ready. After all, you only get one first album, right?
And the gamble paid off. What we have here is a debut of distinct assuredness, full of bright pop melodies, retro-flavored production, and plenty of sonic surprises. Nothing Happens is a 40 minute manifesto from a new indie staple--an instantly infectious and energetic entrance from a trio that shows real promise.
Whereas Spring was a syrupy mix of Beatles riffs, Velvet Underground flourishes, and bouncy punk poetry, Nothing Happens decidedly dips a toe into some darker waters right from the outset. Sure, it’s still a wonderful balance of the Californian and suburban, and we still see the guys drifting through relationships and hard-learned lessons, but the more expansive production present here grounds the disc. While Spring felt off the cuff and close to the vest, Nothing Happens is revealing and introspective, with new shades of pain and yearning accompanying their established sound.
Take for instance the slacker-vulnerability on the duet "Are You Bored Yet?" where Minette pleads "Will you tell the truth, so I don't have to lie?, or his punchy, constant self-deprecation on "Scrawny”, which sees him sleeping with the lights on as he confesses a litany of insecurities to his lover, culminating in one of the more charming expletives from recent pop memory.
Album closer “Do Not Wait” is a surprisingly deep composition, sparsely arranged with angsty musings, and an outro that loops back around to the album's opening chords. It's on this song the album's title appears lyrically, summarizing the record’s core tenets in a simple phrase: “Nothing really happens at all”. Ennui both inherited and invented is central, as is the terrifying reality of entering adulthood without a fully formed understanding of the all too confusing world.
Elsewhere on the disc, Wallows offer glimpses of their technical finesse; though the playing is generally loose and garage-y (the Strokes are high on the list of influences) there are moments of slick guitar solos where the band really finds their groove. And the trade-off lead vocals keeps things feeling fresh—Minette’s easy croon giving way to Lemasters’s reedy falsetto, both working nicely on their respective songs.
At its best, Nothing Happens feels like a grab-bag of excellent indie debuts of the past; Wallows always had an interest in the vintage, with a song on Spring tellingly titled “1980s Horror Film”. There’s hints of Vampire Weekend's self-titled, with the self-aware pop sensibilities and nice-guy veneer, whispers of Funeral's compact compositions of loss and renewal, and more than a few nods to Is this It's fuzz rock urgency.
There’s a sense that on Nothing Happens, Wallows was going for broke, eager to establish cred in their genre. By wearing their influences on their sleeves, they’re able to experiment with their songwriting while still playing it safe, easily falling back on well-worn territory. There’s a familiarity to the sound, which might account for some of the band’s seemingly easily-won popularity.
Now that they’ve arrived, it’ll be interesting to see where Wallows will go next. Younger, social-media conscious fans will most likely be onboard no matter what, but the attention of older and more mainstream listeners will require something a bit more distinct to make the trio stand out against the legions of equally catchy indie-pop outfits. I hope their sound continues to develop; it would be a real shame if the title of their debut became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Wallows kicks off their national tour supporting Nothing Happens next week, including a stop at Chicago’s Metro in May.