From open to close, Wetheads Come Running by Austin, Texas-bred Single Frame sounds like a machine built to tilt, the buzz it manifests colliding like a flock of pinballs on a 37-minute, one-coin ride. The bright, metallic music spun from note-one reaches out from the core to the surface where listener meets land, breaking like waves into shards of sound at once loud, pale, circular and somehow always with one idea in front of the next, preserving motion and bending our sense of sound itself.
Straight to a point, Single Frame play with fistfuls of energy, a valuable currency when traded against the stock of bands remembering only to hang their heads. While a group like Interpol sing themselves blue about turning on the bright lights, the members of Single Frame simply do, by arranging new textures that allow them to both tread the inevitable gloom honestly and maintain the presence that they’re having a damn fine time doing so.
The instruments on Wetheads Come Running — with no slight to the collected vocals — accept the challenge of becoming the group’s most dynamic method of expression, and begin their ricochet at the threshold. Guitarist Brendan Reilly and drummer Adreon Henry play purposeful angles on opener “Floral Design in a Straight Line”, fracturing rhythms and spitting notes into chaos theory until the safe odds are busted and they stack in one mad rush to the coda. Similar, dirty electronics make the rounds on “$7 Haircut”, where guitars ride bucking drumbeats bareback, introducing a muscular tone the band amends and defines during the album’s length, but never completely abandons. That note scheme — really just a clear, favored angle illustrating the band’s most comfortable creative space — extends a hand that points to fresh landmarks in nearly all tracks, yet gestures with a familiarity that, at times, paints a roundabout scenery we feel we’ve passed before.
To even hint at the idea of cohesive scenery, a true landscape, a world of its own achieved in the relatively narrow confines of any given album is a task few bands ever discover organic methods of completing. The building blocks to such a realized atmosphere begin to materialize on Wetheads Come Running — fragile blueprints that, wholly excusable given the band’s youth, are navigated past time and again.
The songs here move fast, from one another and from beginning to end. From “Post Daydream Forecast Endeavor”‘s exhaust pipe melody, sounding out the escape route from some underground, tin belly, to the short-of-breath vocals on “Mod Style ’68”, in which Reilly’s guitar counters with more subtle theories on melody, the whole of it comes together like one continuous trip down a dial of frequencies engaged in friendly fire. Why not set the whole piece after itself and see what’s left standing?
Fortunately, there is a sense that brevity and brashness (subjective as they are) are not being used as a crutch to support thin ideas. Rather, it sends the message that we’re being taken at eye-level, standing up, a frank this-is-it proposition, but the only position that feels natural as the music seems to make its own way.
That artistic frankness doubles as the critic’s curse. The band wears its influences none-too-shyly: the nose for a sweet and sour verse courtesy Doug Martsch (“Eavesdropper Goes Solo”); the trampoline-vocals a short bounce from Isaac Brock (“Comm. Jet (Creepykid Remix)”); and the whole varied package shouted/played in such an inspired fit to already invite in the frequent Fugazi allusions. Yet yet. The Muse combined from the above and beyond is stripped down to a tailored-fit that leaves little to waste: we’re left with the strong suspicion that, on this go round, all ideas were exhausted and the skeletons of band’s past ground down into a dust that happily refracts their own light.
Or brood in the resulting dusk. The track “Eavesdropper Goes Solo” is either the album’s most primary, immediate song or the tune that kept the band stirring long into the night. The sense of identity being self-divided over a submarine bass line (“The fact of the matter is I don’t feel fine / The fact of the matter is I’m always behind / The fact is / I’m always out of place in my own skin / With my own face”) is nothing conceptually new in the grand scheme of confessional songwriting, but it insists on underscoring the individuality of these global emotions — the new ways in which doubt can tear a human apart — with an array of voices and inflections so understated that our compassion is quick and the facts come to matter quite a bit.
Internal publicity and other outfits of review began hailing the album upon release last year, laying thick the advance due and then sitting in wait for the band to begin delivering on lucrative returns. Few groups survive that initial wave. Fewer still ride it to a better place. What Single Frame has here, at the very least, is a document that’s proven its resiliency with a voice already making noises about second and third acts.
In the meantime, we continue to seek out new ways of translating — and let’s not forget enjoying — the present tense. Wetheads Come Running is a bright, tightly meandering album, less concerned to these ears in achieving a final, cohesive gasp than in ripping down the scenery most interesting to them along the road to whatever end it is they do choose. Which is great. Most roadmaps outlining “new sounds” creep up like so many futuristic schemes — gray, listless, and numbingly by the books. Single Frame opt for the odd fork in the road and remember to drop anchor every so often, locking us into an awareness of new places and sounds, and reminding themselves, while on the verge of a tremendous future, where it is they’ve already been.