Water From Your Eyes’ whip-smart sixth release, Everyone’s Crushed, is their debut on Matador Records. This is an excellent move for both sides. Let me start with Matador.
Matador have been a pivotal arbiter of taste in the indie rock landscape since the early 1990s. Established by Chris Lombardi and Gerard Cosloy, both of whom had worked at the pioneering Homestead Records label, Matador signed a host of acts that defined the alternative music scene as grunge receded. Liz Phair, Guided by Voices, Cat Power, Bettie Serveert, and Pavement all testify to Matador’s dominance back then. The label appeared infallible in picking the right musicians and bands to promote, wielding a seeming monopoly over what was new, cool, and eventually canonical at the time.
Matador have since largely become a label for legacy acts and artists from that fertile period – Stephen Malkmus, Kim Gordon, Belle and Sebastian, and Yo La Tengo being among the most prominent. True, their roster has expanded over the past two decades to include projects like Interpol, Perfume Genius, and Car Seat Headrest. But Matador have never entirely shaken off their 1990s pedigree and the indie pop songcraft it cultivated back then. Even Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan), one of the label’s newest recruits, sounds like she emerged from a time capsule buried in 1993, armed with the warm chords found on her exceptional LP Lush (2018).
Water From Your Eyes is a decisive step in a different direction. A Brooklyn-based duo with Rachel Brown on vocals and Nate Amos handling the instruments, Water From Your Eyes traffic between experimental music of the krautrock period of the late 1960s and early 1970s and today’s feminine pop sensibility reflective of their millennial/Gen Z generation. They come across as methodical students of the Nurse with Wound list, who are also fans of Lana del Ray. I could be challenged on this, but they seem to believe there is a missing link between the two. Their music is about establishing this secret genealogy.
Water From Your Eyes made a splash in January 2021 with their eclectic covers album Somebody Else’s Songs – not to be confused with their 2019 LP Somebody Else’s Song (song in the singular) – which included inspired renditions of “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, “These Days” by Nico, and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. Later that year, they released Structure, which was excellent in its bold, fresh tracks that easily rattled one’s complacency. The album provided a thumbnail survey of the pop landscape from its unapologetically sunny, Beatlesque opener “When You’re Around” to the moody Depeche Mode-like dance number “Track 5”.
Their new album, Everyone’s Crushed, is more experimental, undertaking what might be called a neo-Dadaist approach that again harks back to krautrock and its successors. Water From Your Eyes want to make clear that moving up in the world doesn’t mean sacrificing your art rock impulses. The opening track, “Structure”, which signals a link to this album’s predecessor, announces this intention with its cryptic, computer-generated melody that is willful in its evasion of conventional song structure and identifiable emotion.
Everyone’s Crushed begins to settle in with the next song, “Barley”, released earlier this year as the LP’s first single. The accompanying music video portrays Brown and Amos as low-level corporate drones, and the music reflects this scenario through its anxious layers of escalating sound that references sources as disparate as rockabilly and Roots Manuva.
The title track, “Everyone’s Crushed”, maintains this theme with its opening melody, which resembles a horror movie soundtrack, followed by Brown deadpanning “I’m with everyone I love / And everything hurts” over a hypnotic electronic beat. Similarly, the next song, “True Life”, which was released as the second single, is driven by a propulsive, pokerfaced vocal that appeals to an unnamed acquaintance, “She was wearing, she was wearing, she was wearing gold / So tell me something, tell me something I haven’t been told.”
Taken together, these tracks edge toward the album’s title theme of everyday anxiety and ordinary oppressiveness, whether labor monotony, loveless alienation, or shallow materialism under late capitalism. As noted, Brown favors a straight-faced vocal delivery that may remind the listener of Florence Shaw of Dry Cleaning. In both cases, they provide a human counterpoint to the maelstrom of music surrounding them.
Brown does have a lovely voice when they sing. Songs like the noise rock “Open” and the melancholic slow jam “Remember Not My Name” elevate Everyone’s Crushed into new atmospheric spaces. The penultimate track, “14”, has them repeating lines like “I trace what I erase” and “How many is 14?” over a violin refrain that accumulates an acute emotional impact. Despite the numerous sonic tricks deployed by Amos, Water From Your Eyes recognizes that Brown’s voice is its most significant effect.
Though comprising only nine songs, it takes a few listens to understand the logic of Everyone’s Crushed. It moves intuitively rather than sustaining any immediate thematic orientation, musically or lyrically. At a certain level, their approach illustrates the idea of “low theory” – a concept explored by Stuart Hall, McKenzie Wark, and Jack Halberstam that emphasizes alternative forms of creativity and the value that “failure” can have as a means of redefining “success” against the heteronormative, capitalist mainstream.
Put differently, Brown and Amos seem intent on doing their post-rock thing. Everyone’s Crushed, like their previous records, is ultimately about ideas and fucking around. Experimenting is the more polite word, but why be polite? That wouldn’t really fit with their evolving ethos. Furthermore, they are good at it. Water From Your Eyes grasps the idea that music can ultimately be anything you want it to be.
Tears of joy? Tears of pain? Tears from laughter? Water From Your Eyes is all of the above. Unlike a number of recent New York acts that have relied on looks and attitude (think: Sleigh Bells), Brown and Amos have intelligence to burn. Everyone’s Crushed soundtracks our present frenzied moment in new ways, portending a mutual future neither bright nor grim but, like this band, is inescapably singular.