When Microwave released their debut album Stovall in 2014, frontman Nathan Hardy had recently disassociated from the Mormon Church. He returned to his home state of Georgia over a year before that from school and a missionary trip on the West Coast, itching to play some songs that he had written while out there. He found a compatriot in an old high school friend, drummer Tito Pittard, and together they released an EP and rounded up a band that would grow to include guitarist Wesley Swanson and, a little further down the line, bassist Tyler Hill.
During the run-up to Stovall, Hardy was still going through the process of leaving the church, and he was experiencing the world through a fresh set of eyes, away from the heavy indoctrination of religion. The songs on Stovall are about his new experiences with binge drinking and sex and unhealthy habits and the residual guilt that comes from being engaged in all of that after being taught that they were forbidden. Out of fear, he buried those subjects in oblique metaphors and narratives: “I would speak in symbolic or poetic code because I wanted to lie to my extended family and have an alternative explanation to what the song was about,” Hardy explains over the phone. “So I could be like, No, this isn’t about having sex or something. I’m Mormon still.“
Over the last two years, though, having found a support system within and because of the band, Hardy had the difficult conversation with his family about no longer being a member of the church, and that’s given him the freedom to be more direct and explicit in his songwriting. On Much Love, the Atlanta-based band’s upcoming sophomore album, Microwave tackles the same topics as before, but with an unflinching gaze and an eye towards the repercussions and fallout. The wonder and fascination with a new lifestyle that was present on much of Stovall has disappeared and been replaced with disillusionment and disappointment in the vices that once seemed so appealing.
In a way, Much Love mirrors the trajectory of many great angsty albums about leaving your parent’s house and finding out that the world away from that bubble isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. In addition to those standard growing pains, the loss of faith looms over Microwave’s songs, and each realization feels informed by the crisis of conscience that comes from the understanding that the values system you abided by growing up no longer exists and was manufactured by an institution with an agenda.
That mistrust and doubt extends to every aspect of life. “Pretty much anything that people get really passionate about and use to attach meaning to their life is contrived and isn’t inherently meaningful,” Hardy says. “You have to decide for yourself what is meaningful.” So Much Love is partially about that search for meaning, though Microwave come to the conclusion that perhaps nothing means anything. It’s a knee-jerk, youthful reaction to disenchantment that will inevitably be shaded in by the accumulation of meaningful experiences over time, but the adherence to nihilism rings true throughout the album.
In conversation, Hardy is prone to existential musings about semantics, and that translates over to his songwriting. “I gave up on love ’cause I’m too apathetic to feel lost again and attach some bullshit meaning to mine,” he sings on one. “If falling in love is the best high, I’ve passed the best times of my life,” on another. Running parallel to that search for meaning is the equating of love and faith, two intangibles that lack physical evidence. If you don’t believe in one, how can you believe in the other? And how much is “love” just predicated on convenience and insecurity and societal pressure? These are unanswerable questions, and Microwave’s new album operates in this grey area.
The band matches this conflicted philosophy with confident swells and melodic hooks that sound in line with their previous work but feel more assured, the result of the band feeling more comfortable to experiment with each other after so much time spent on the road. As Hardy himself admits, their debut album was very “Manchester Orchestra 2.0,” while their new record sees them adopting more of their own flavor, pulling from influences like gritty Southern rock and noisy guitar acts like Ty Segall and Jay Reatard. And whereas many of their older songs took the “ramp up to a heavy conclusion” formula that many emo bands hold dear, Microwave find more diverse ways to sprawl out and reach climax on their new album.
One exception to that rule is “Vomit,” the record’s next single, which starts off soft and sweet before building to a big payoff ending in which Hardy screams: “There’s no such thing as love/ We just felt vulnerable without a God, without a crutch, or anything else to lean on/ There’s nowhere else, nobody else, nothing.” The accompanying Kyle Thrash-directed video (which you can watch above) was shot on location in Georgia, and threads individual narratives together in a search for purpose, examining the coping mechanisms people use to combat the weight of everyday life. Most are unhealthy, many are probably inherently meaningless, but they are all sharply powerful. Both the video and Much Love as a whole acknowledge that the ways in which we learn to survive in the face of meaninglessness can be the most important thing of all.