Wauters slouches, sighs, and whines his way to goofy charm.
Juan Wauters can’t, and won’t, hide. He’ll slouch, he’ll sigh, he’ll whine, but he knew what he got into when he move to New York and decide that music had stopped evolving in 1971. The former Beets frontman is partying and playing like Paul Simon never made Graceland. But this striped down folky bash doesn’t have the same sort of hazy fuzz that the Beets owned that could obscure flaws. Wauters knows he needs some key traits to stand out from the next guy over playing open mic night at the coffee shop. The two most obvious are Wauters’ bilingual crooning and his delightfully goofy charm. Like his Captured Tracks labelmate, Mac DeMarco, Wauters tosses off slacker philosophy, pickup lines and casually defeatist lyrics in a quick succession.
Even for non-Spanish speakers, the sentiments of “En Mi” and “Asi No Mas” are apparent from his tired mewling and sleepy guitar. “There’s Something Still Here” has Wauters proclaiming “I go to work when all the squares go to bed”, but he’s huddling under his blanket seconds later, trying to “cover up the windows so the light don’t get in” and pretending that the sun doesn’t exist. “I’m wide awake / OH NOOOOO,” he moans, pushing the real world away.
That general tiredness seeps into Who Me?, even to the title, Wauters probably muttering it under his breath, wanting to be left alone. “Woodside, Queens” is Wauters at his most exhausted, recalling a relationship where he couldn’t tell if they were symbiotic or parasites. “I know that we are freaks.” he sings, hopefully, before remembering “the things you dangle in my sleep". It sounds like he’s ready to call it off, only to ask “why don’t you lend your body one more time to me?” with the sort of desperation that accompanies one too many nights with the Pornhub tab open.
Wauters poor choices in daily life, unfortunately, carry over into some of his musical tastes. “Though That Red” is a jaunty piano ballad that, in the year of Tobias Jesso Jr and people having Billy Joel amnesia, should be a hit, but the backing synths sound like they were made on a broken down Cassio keyboard, collapsing the main melody. “I Was Well” and “This is I” have the same sort of decayed recording quality that dissolves the songs’ charms. The fatalist “She Might Get Shot” has Wauters looking at his own wayward ways and a female friend’s misguided choices with tapping percussion and snippets of piano, but it closes with a jammed in spoken word section, derailing the momentum completely.
These are cases of the music moving in front of Wauters. He’s enough of a kook that he should always be front and center in music this stark. “I’m All Wrong” has one of the worst pickup lines in music history (“like a movie that is good / you require my attention”), but Wauters saves it with a charming afterthought, looking forward to “the moment where we find we both are sharing shadows.” The jangling “Grey Matter” is the catchiest track here, posing the question of “where is my mind?” with a sigh rather than a yelp.
It’s the bookends of Who Me? that shine some light on Wauters’ troubadour potential. Opener “En Mi”, with handclaps, humming guitar, and bouncy bass underlying Wauters’ questions is sweetly gorgeous. Closer “El Show De Los Meurtos” has Wauters singing “I grew up, thinking I’d be a hero… but what am I doing?” Certainly Who Me? poses plenty of questions regarding what Wauters should be doing, but give it some time. Wauters might be the folkie he was always dreaming of, provided he gets out of bed.