Photo: Fallon Frierson / Courtesy of Fire Talk Records

Wombo’s Simple Structures Create a Volatility That Gives ‘Fairy Rust’ Its Charm

Wombo create their dark moods on Fairy Rust by channeling the best qualities of some of the most important and influential acts of the 20th century.

Fairy Rust
Fire Talk
29 July 2022

Wombo‘s single “Dreamsicles” off last year’s EP Keesh Mountain received much attention since its release, racking up about three-quarters of a million plays on Spotify. No small feat for any indie rock band, the moody track showcases the Louisville, Kentucky trio’s best qualities–gloom, noise, and simplicity. Hoping to expand upon that single’s success, the band released their full-length follow-up Fairy Rust on Fire Talk, the Brooklyn indie label that already boasts successful releases from Dehd and Cola this year. 

Wombo look to make a strong statement themselves with a charming collection of 1990s-inspired guitar rock that takes cues from the best parts of post-punk, indie-pop, and goth. Of all the bands doing the 1990s resurgence thing right now–most of which never lived during the decade–Wombo are one of the most conspicuous groups to ride the trend. Understated and candid, Wombo’s effort feels far from contrived or forced. Something that seems impossible since they, too, were barely in the womb during their influences’ heyday. 

On the edgy track opener “Snakey”, Chadwick plucks a punchy, simple ascending bass line that climbs and re-climbs the stairs. The tambourine and drums enter not long before her vocals come in, singing cryptic lyrics about a slithery character. The guitar punctuates the form with noise; another quirky guitar melody persists underneath the vocals. The song is pretty much one extended vamp, and it’s over quickly after it begins. The structure is surprisingly simple and understated but artsy, and it’s good. 

Sydney Chadwick (bass/vocals), Cameron Lowe (guitar), and Joel Taylor (drummer) have been whittling down their sound since the band’s debut release Staring at the Trees, in 2017. Safe for the experimental tendencies on that album and other previous ones, Fairy Rust finds the group settling comfortably into specific roles. The bass usually provides the framework for the song with a melodic, Peter Hook–like bassline while the drums lock into a repetitive pattern. Between Chadwick’s slowly unfurling vocals, the guitarist plays contrasting melodies high on the frets, sometimes fighting the guitar and invoking noise instead. 

“Sour Sun” begins with a funky breakbeat that brings in a pedaling bass riff that is just as funky. The chorus brings a welcomed variation, and Chadwick’s charming vocals shine with a pretty melody–it’s a lively number but still carries the hue of melancholy. The more punk-flavored “Backflip” lifts the energy even more–the bass fuzzy bass adds the grit while the propulsive drums build with the dissonant notes in the guitar. As should be expected of the band’s simple song structures, the suspense doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s pent-up energy with no place to go. Sit with it instead. 

The band’s songs can feel formulaic. Their arrangements aren’t intricate, which can leave listeners with more to desire–some type of climax, anti-climax, release, or resolution, anything to wrap the song up and give it a sense of finality. By itself, it would make for a puzzling listen, but in the context of Wombo and their approach, the rough-around-the-edges and skeletal structures make the volatility that gives Wombo its charm. Wombo’s songwriting isn’t lacking. In fact, the brevity and simplicity feel refreshing and organic–surprising qualities for unsurprising forms.

Wombo create their dark moods by channeling the best qualities of some of the most important and influential acts of the 20th century. The melodic basslines and talk-sung vocals recall post-punk pioneers Joy Division while the sparkling guitar work pays homage to 1990s indie rock idols the Pixies. Some of the dark, minor-sounding keys synced up with the programmed-sounding beats and pop vocal melodies hint at the radio accessibility of the Cure. Wombo want you to ruminate in these glum tempers.

A harsh approach to the vocals feels like the right move at times. But Chadwick’s unassuming vocals hold the songs together. Her lyrics tend to slowly unfurl in long, drawn-out vowels, sounding like a less bubbly but equally depressed Greta Kline with her melodic choices. The melodies Chadwick discovers in the rhythm section framework are infectious and linger long after the two- to three-minute track run times. Her vocals help make Wombo accessible to listeners who wouldn’t particularly enjoy the aggressive approach of punk.

On Rustic Fairy, you won’t find anything showy, and yet, Wombo manage to exceed the expectations of their previous Keesh Mountain EP, delivering something simple yet affecting. The group has found a formula that works for them, and here, they refine it. Their melodies and introspective moods will get you. If they haven’t already been added to the radar of relevant bands mining the 1990s for inspiration–Horse Girl, Mamma, Soccer Mommy–Rustic Fairy proves that Wombo is worthy of the attention and status.