A Punk ‘n’ Roll explosion opens up the long-awaited debut album from London rockers WACO, as ‘The Jersey Devil’ bolts and thunders along. It’s a deliciously alarmist tune of foreboding that fizzes with potency. Craig Welshy, (of Top Buzzer fame) provides his signature pounding snare rhythms and Jak Hutchcraft lays on the wild guitar parts we have come to know and love from the talented quartet.
The dynamic fuzz-rocking of Chris’ belligerent bass and Tom’s wicked guitar is the gritty compliment to Jak’s guttural rasps and catchy vocal melodies throughout this record; and those who have had the pleasure of seeing the band play over the last five or so years know we are in masterful hands. I first witnessed them open up Wonkfest at Stockwell’s The Grosvenor (RIP), 2014 where they completely stole the show with their impressive musicianship and lunatic banter. Upset Magazine rightly hails the ability of WACO to make listeners, “feel warm, content and uneasy all at the same time.”
Second up, listeners are treated to the irresistible ‘Levenshulme Lover.’ It’s a boozy and romantic pub singalong, that delivers tenderness to the heartbroken herberts of the City. The swelteringly beautiful piano section on the bridge-outro accompanies the searing lead guitar superbly and rounds off a pitch-perfect drinking song for the lonely walks home. The track can also boast surely the most fun and charming music video of recent years, highlighting the intelligent and goofy wit of the lads.
‘N15’ shifts into a kind of vintage dissonant reggae, which mourns the “death of teens and teenage dreams,” while hopefully, “staying true to what’s inside.” The title track after is a smooth instrumental break of languid ambience, before we snap in to the feisty ‘Anthony,’ the lyrics of which explore friendships real and imagined, Chris conjuring up a sublime bassline. The interplay of instrumentation is clever here, with different lines dropping in and out and sparingly used palm-mutes.
The whole album benefits from this playful mixing of textures and the additional guest instruments are utilised just the right amount. Experimental, but never leaning into gimmickry. Alexina’s extra vocals are arresting and Emma Cooper’s Saxophone adds real depth. Emma also made a cracking appearance at the album launch show recently at the Old Blue, ably supported by the rather great Mixtape Saints. Moving onwards, Shane Billingham’s haunting, melancholic keys return to provide the backdrop for the mournful ‘Daydream,’ that inflicts palpable emotional impact.
‘My Brother, We’ll Rise Again’ is a dark plodding Americana interlude with shades of Trent Miller in it’s bleak country wail. The kind of song that heralds the vengeful return of a wounded cowboy in an old Western. Following this mysterious detour, we transmorph into a thoughtful pop-punk bop, ‘The Valleys’ which contains a slice of other-worldliness from the blistering guitar solo. Next, ‘Smalltown Goths’ extols the universal underdog with glorious swagger and ‘Six Feet Under,’ is a poignant anthem that builds from subtle acoustic foundations.
The brilliant and nimble ride through all these diverse sounds really encapsulates the band’s untamed ethos. To attempt to draw sound comparisons is a futile dead end. That is, so far as contemporaries go, WACO simply haven’t got any. In terms of genre and approach it safe to say we are listening to something entirely unique and it is no surprise that promoters and gig-goers have failed to pigeon-hole or limit them. The joys of this anarchic defiance of categorisation, mean the unorthodox songsmiths find themselves entertaining everywhere from punk bars and classic rock gigs, to eclectic festivals and metal all-dayers, rightly winning accolades and fans from all across the boards.
Collectors will want to hunt down previous releases. The band initially put out a limited edition cassette the ‘Sundown’ EP in 2015 for Gallows’ label Venn records, (Banquet re-releasing two of the tracks, Wrangler/Agitation on a 7inch for good measure) and the ‘Uprise’ 12inch EP followed in June 2016. Additionally, the excellent Deathless CD EP released in 2017 can still be bought from the band’s website. All of these successes, combined with their vibrant, earth shattering live shows, have won the group plaudits from BBC Radio 1 and support slots with the likes of Anti-Flag and Slaves, to name but a couple.
There is a thirst for human enquiry, but also joy in the absurdities of life with the WACO experience. Drummer Craig said in an interview for Distorted Sound, “We want to celebrate our fleeting human existence because I think it’s pretty amazing, whatever it means, who knows, but I think we should celebrate it.” This sense prevails in ‘By My Side’ which floats somewhere beyond the clouds, while simultaneously entombing the listener in a state of blissful interconnectedness. The penultimate song is the cacophonous ‘Catbrain’ which musically bounces us around other dimensions, while remaining lyrically grounded in daily struggles and the perpetual fight to be human.
WACO characterises their output as ‘cosmic punk’ and one cannot help but persistently feel the essence of spirituality in the air. Jak has himself recently been penning articles on religious groups he has felt drawn to, as well as meeting some for a Vice mini-documentary. Moreover, a podcast of the same moniker as the album has emerged to discuss these themes and more. The album reflects this genuine warmth and desire to unify regardless of specific doctrine and in spite, or perhaps because, of Jak’s bewitching levity in the promise to “take over the galaxy.”
In a recent interview for Hollywood Soapbox Jak also commented on the band’s unmistakably anti-authoritarian message, “when we’re asked about our band name we can ignite this very conversation and can hopefully inspire ourselves and others to share thoughts, debate, listen, lament and learn.” The impression left is not one of professed purity or ideological dogma, but rather authentic engagement and a willing curiosity fueled by real empathy.
Which leads us to ‘Tomorrow’s Gorgeous Globe,’ a typically optimistic WACO attitude that concludes the LP. It would be easy to be cynical, especially with such a cheesy title, but it seems that this is not delusional utopianism but rather a sincere and hopeful wish to really build a better world and the positivity is infectious even to a hard-nosed bastard such as myself.
It is true that the antithesis between unfettered capitalist globalisation and a would-be democratic internationalism are not going to be resolved in a 3-minute poem. Nor are the many complex tensions that divide the current political and social landscape going to be fully addressed. But WACO has the ambition and faith to tackle the dialogue head on and this boldness should not be confused with arrogance. Rather, their aspiration and conviction is to be saluted. This sensational album is an essential purchase and has been dedicated to the wonderful Chris Cowley, WACO’s original bassist and dear friend who played on the record but sadly passed away before it’s release.
Despite the many roaring injustices and perplexing contradictions of our society as we hurtle into the 20s, you cannot help but feel that the stories WACO wish to tell and the powerful experience of both their music and live company will be a help along the way for many; that something special is going on here. A conjoining of brave souls that we are lucky to be sharing in. Craig sums it up with pertinence, “our lifeboat to people who are feeling lost. If they feel lost, or downtrodden, or like the world’s caving in on them, this is our buoy to help them so they don’t sink.” Human Magic indeed.
Check out the band here: https://wacoband.bandcamp.com/