Holy Wave : Five of Cups

Holy Wave Five of Cups review

Vibes get a bad rap. Listen, I get it. It is usually the worst people you know expressing either their infatuation or distaste with a certain nebulous vibe. In music, it is even more exhausting, as Spotify and other streaming services try to boil the entire history of music into one vibe or another. But vibes have their place, especially within the psych-rock universe in which Austin, Texas four-piece Holy Wave exist and thrive. In fact, their sixth and newest record, Five Of Cups, might just be their vibiest yet, a rolling storm cloud of intricate psych-rock best taken in as one seamless whole. 

This can make talking about a record like Five Of Cups somewhat difficult. There are individual moments to be explored, to be sure, but it is the whole that seems most essential to unpack. Holy Wave is putting a lot of trust in the listener on Five Of Cups, an album that does not force feed ideas, choruses, or hooks down the listener’s throat, but instead relies on you meeting them halfway. Impatience will not be rewarded here, as even the best songs hide some of their most charming moments within a wash of distortion and an absolute deluge of sound. Fifteen years into their time as a band, Holy Wave have written plenty of more pop-oriented fare, but this seems a deliberate attempt to take things a step further. Without the more strict structures of ‘60s indebted psych pop as scaffolding, childhood friends Ryan Fuson, Joey Cook, Kyle Hager and Julian Ruiz are able to splash and smear paint to the very edges of the canvas. 

Of course, that introduces a bit of risk to the whole endeavor. Almost every one of these songs stretch to nearly five minutes, each in their own deliberate manner, asking listeners to buy into the languid pace of the record. By the time you get to a song on the back half of the album like “Nothing In The Dark,” you can begin to feel your focus slipping, the lack of variation hiding good songs behind frustrating familiarity, the creeping specter of vibes and vibes alone threatening to lose the listener as things progress.

Patience is the key here. Identifying standout moments within Fives Of Cups, whether they be instrumental or lyrical is not always easy, but often satisfying. Even with headphones blaring and attention sharp you are likely to miss at least one of a dozen flourishes hidden within the wall of sound that makes up each song, making each listen an act of discovery. It’s a similar journey thematically. Fuson talks a lot about pessimism, and battling against it, when discussing this record—the Five Of Cups title a direct reference to the tarot card reading that pushed these thoughts to the fore—but identifying specifics can be a tall task. A song like “Chaparral,” the album’s best, plays like a memory of a dream being played on an old VHS tape, it’s steady drone a mirror for our distorted view of ourselves and our past. Or maybe that’s not it at all, and I need to listen a few more times to get to the heart of it. That’s okay, though, because the vibes are great.

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Year: 2023

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