The Wharves’ greatest moments have always been their most indulgent. The multi-national trio’s talents are at their most apparent when they relax into theatrical, structural wanders, and on new album ‘Electa' at points they hit new heights of progression.
‘Venus of Hornchurch’, for example, is the band’s strongest song to date. Slipping quickly into a groove of cruel, thudding rhythm and a looming wall of rumbling guitar, the three exchange and weave intense swoops of intertwining vocals, layering and layering a resounding, beguiling melodrama that’s their most irresistible to date.
‘John the Stitcher’, meanwhile opens more harmoniously with a breezy, elegant drift tempered with just a pinch of off-kilter ‘60s psychedelia that preambles a razor-sharp chorus, while ‘My Will’ is a baroque bludgeoning of a closer, an eerie solo vocal making way for a final bombastic surge.
What made The Wharves’ last record, 2014’s ‘At Bay’ so brilliant, was that at the points where the band weren’t voyaging through enticing twists of structure, they still kept things intense and engaging, but on ‘Electa’ the overall tone is more louche. It’s an aesthetic that often works to their advantage, such as on the whacked-out haze of ‘Your Lies Are Fun’ and French-language ‘L’Autre’, yet occasionally leaves them prone to losing momentum.
The record’s opener ‘The Strike’, for instance, boasts a chorus injected with impetus and drive, yet ‘Rays of Light’, which follows, soon becomes repetitive, with the group’s vocals uncharacteristically weak and sloppy. The fairly standard first half of the lengthy ‘Old Friend’, meanwhile, is rescued from mediocrity only by a roaring, if inconsequential freak-out.
Moreover, in contrast to their structural sense of adventure, texturally the record feels somewhat samey, made all the more frustrating by the fact that on the rare occasion they do stray into different tones, on the final crescendo of ‘My Will’, and on the buried chimes that back the sparse ‘Holy Maid’, they sound all the better for it.
Such are the peaks of ‘Electa', however, that individually they more than outweigh its more muddled moments, and though the record as a whole is weaker than its predecessor, there’s enough flashes of career-high brilliance to keep The Wharves on the right path of progression.
Words: Patrick Clarke
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