Wakey!Wakey! | Almost Everything I Wish I Said the Last Time I Saw You… (Family Records)

Many songs are just phrases repeated over and over again.

Wakey!Wakey! are frustratingly chimeric: simultaneously bland, perfectly listenable, and as scattershot as their exclamation-point-happy name suggests. The first few tracks provide a false sense of continuity, bringing to mind the unholy offspring of an overly earnest piano-based singer/songwriter and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Abbreviated-title-track “Almost Everything…” charges forth with a dramatic, nearly prog-rock blast of piano and slashing, harmonized guitar; it’s weird but energizing, lulling you into a false sense of knowing what lies ahead. But nooooo… Instead, Wakey!Wakey! set off on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Hands inside the car, make sure your lap bars are on tight…

 “Twenty-Two” abruptly shifts gears into sunny ‘70s AM pop territory, all Hammond organ, whistling, and cheery backing vocals. It’s a jarring switch, but a crafty song and a welcome development. “Dance So Good” makes another hairpin turn, throwing the manual brakes and slamming into a solo electric piano ballad more in common with James Blunt. Look for this soon on a CW teen drama. The dramatic phrasing, violin, and female counterpoint vocals of “1876 – The Brooklyn Theatre Fire” make it an album standout. If more of Almost Everything was as focused, it’d be a much stronger record. Oddly enough, the languid “Feral Love” uses many of the same tricks but doesn’t hit with the same impact. Plus the fact that it’s a semi-jaunty number (complete with oompah brass), sung in a voice that’s Bill Murray in Caddyshack by way of Matt Bellamy, and is about, well, being gone down on…yeah. It makes for a slightly discomforting proposition. Elsewhere, “Got It All Wrong” puts analogue synth bloops and interesting strings to work in bringing a temporary respite to the album’s tiring lack of focus. “Light Outside” nearly veers too far into soppy Five For Fighting or Fray territory, but is redeemed by some truly lovely, understated orchestration, a purposeful, insistent rhythm, and snakey guitars. “Car Crash” does close the album promisingly – it’s a short, sweet baby sized power ballad, the first half affectingly sparse, with the final half bursting with more of those well used horns, strings, and more of the woefully underused female vocal accompaniment.

It’s hard to harp too loudly about lyrics. Musically talented bands with good ones deserve the praise, but there have been great bands with awful words. But Wakey!Wakey! tends to grate; many songs are just phrases repeated over and over again. “The Oh Song” features, well, lots “oh oh oh oh”s and not that much else. In fact, there’s either an attention deficit or underdeveloped idea issue at play on a number of the album’s songs; more than a couple are little more than one or two minutes long, groping for structure, unsure of what they really want to be. See the altogether not unpleasant, Jellyfish-and-analogue-synth “Square Peg Round Hole” as an example.

I find myself coming back to the sentiment that Almost Everything… is an album that’s very difficult to outright dislike, with a few minor successes, but also one where it’s easy to imagine all sorts of improvements that would make it far easier to actively love. This isn’t lazy work, it just needs tightening up. Keep trying, guys.

 C- | Mike Rengel

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