”Like phantom souls, we pray…”
Hit the Waves, the third album from the Swedish band the Mary Onettes, opens with an instrumental “Intro” that’s calm and ominous, seemingly setting us up for a dramatic start, as if this is going to be a grand, ambitious concept album. In fact, the calmness and eeriness of the intro lead naturally into the moderate pace and anxiousness of the first track “Evil Coast”, which sets the tone of the album. If it’s a concept album, it’s definitely not the surfing-fun album you might imagine from the title, but a downcast, somewhat nautical-themed album of tragedy and loss. The “Evil Coast” is riddled with a feeling of decline and disappointment: “Something was lost at the evil coast”. The mix of guitar and synthesizers is decidedly reminiscent of the early Cure, though the Mary Onettes’ version of doom and gloom is much more gently sad, quietly tragic.
A breakup album you could maybe generalize it as, except the sense of loss pervading Hit the Waves seems larger and deeper than just two people. The lyrics are often phrased as one person directing thoughts to another person—urging the other, for example, “Don’t Forget (to Forget About Me)”, a title and hook that evokes ‘80s pop of a more popular sort. Just as often the lyrics are a first-person chronicle of someone trying to use pain as a survival mechanism.
The songs so consistently mine the same material that it starts feeling like a portrait of our era as a deeply sad one, where lost souls abound. Hearts are decaying in the cities and on the coasts, time can’t help and neither can anything else. “The rain you felt today was just another shower of tears”, lead vocalist/songwriter Philip Ekström sings.
There are allusions throughout to religion and its failures, which vaguely come to a head on the second-to-last track “Unblessed”. The song has some parts at the end that resemble a hymn, yet the lyrics touch on both the tragedy of life (“it’s more than just a bad dream”) and our own ability to change it, without the help of a higher power.
That song has the line “this is your life, you can point it right”, which points to another difference in tone between the Mary Onettes and they’re gloomy influences. Throughout this album, there’s an undertone that says these dark clouds are mostly in our own heads—in how we think of ourselves and others. For all of the album’s depressing thoughts, even its feeling of inevitable failure (the last track: “How it all Ends”), there’s simultaneously a feeling that it can be wiped away, reversed. This sensation also lives in the music, in the Mary Onettes’ romantic approach to ‘80s pop styles, to waves of synthesizer.