Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Wet Leg Wet Leg

Domino
2022
Domino
2022

What is it about Wet Leg that elicits such strong reactions from people, both positive and negative? Is it that the band appeared out of nowhere with a record deal and a hit song? That their signature sound plays like a poppier and more playful alternative to the self-consciously hip underground favorites of the moment? That from their band name to their lyrics to their twee music videos to their informal stage choreography, they seem constitutionally opposed to taking themselves seriously? That they’re self-possessed young women who seem entirely indifferent to your searing critique? All of the above, depending on who’s raving about them or ranting against them.

It’s been less than 10 months since Wet Leg emerged from the Isle of Wight with “Chaise Longue” — their quirky, catchy, propulsive debut single, marked by faux-clerical inquiries like “Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?” and a flirtatious invite to consume warm beer together backstage — and announced they’d signed to the indie power player Domino Records. But after five more music videos, a parade of glowing profiles (including one at this very website), and several rounds of skeptical discourse — the backlash, the backlash to the backlash, and so forth — it feels like they’ve been rolling out their album since before the pandemic. At the end of this week, their self-titled LP will finally be out. It’s as refreshing as the chatter surrounding this band has been exhausting.

Because Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers have already released half of their album and have been performing the rest of it on tour, you likely have the gist. Their songs are sprightly little machines built from rolling basslines, driving drums, and guitars that shoot off at cartoonish angles, playing off the duo’s droll turns of phrase. The vocals take the form of deadpan sprechgesang and wispy melodies, aloof even at their most impassioned. Teasdale and Chambers write colorfully about their lives as twentysomething women in the 2020s, navigating a landscape of dating apps, falsely confident young rock dudes, and self-righteously woke frenemies with mockery, non-sequiturs, and the occasional glimmer of vulnerability between jokes. Sometimes the tracks are seasoned with strategically deployed synths. Often it all builds toward a power-chord inferno and a shout-along hook.

On Wet Leg, this formula works wonders again and again. Opener “Being In Love” instantly sweeps us into Teasdale’s elated confusion. As a pulsing tension builds, she sings, “I feel so uninspired, I feel like giving up/ I feel like someone has punched me in the guts.” Just before the roaring guitars and delicate backing vocals kick in, she turns the monologue on its head: “I kinda like it cos it feels like being in love.” The album vividly depicts this kind of topsy-turvy emotional experience, funneling tangled-up feelings into whimsical rock songs and witty satire in a way that makes Wet Leg’s music feel like an addictive sitcom. A tossed-off eureka like “Chaise Longue” may not be repeatable, but the alchemy that fueled it remains on display throughout the album.

Wet Leg are especially gifted at conveying the messy uncertainty of attraction; see “Wet Dream,” which balances taunts like “What makes you think you’re good enough to think about me when you’re touching yourself?” with winking offers to come home and watch Buffalo 66 on DVD. They’re just as good at depicting the fallout from a breakup; see “Ur Mum,” on which Teasdale declares, “When I think about what you’ve become, I feel sorry for your mum,” and counts down to a piercing primal scream. On “I Don’t Wanna Go Out,” she beats herself up over self-destructive tendencies (“And now I’m almost 28, still getting off my stupid face”), only to get defensive when an ex levels similar critiques on “Oh No.” Far from just a series of punchlines, the album is a fleshed-out universe with knowingly flawed protagonists. Wet Leg even drop their guard now and then, as on the heartbroken “Loving You” and the scathing “Piece Of Shit.” And then there’s the record’s sweeping grand finale.

“Too Late Now” is a slow-build powerhouse, dreamy and moody and anthemic as it wrestles with indecisiveness in the face of a harrowing world. Upon its release last year, it proved Wet Leg were far more versatile than the twin goofs “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream” had suggested. Yet the song’s answer to life’s troubles — “I just need a bubble bath to set me on a higher path” — is the kind of line that has undoubtedly caused some of Wet Leg’s critics to decide they are the indie-rock equivalent of a Pinterest-ready embroidered pillow. Often the band has been framed as the more basic and approachable entry in a wave of talky British guitar bands like Dry Cleaning, Yard Act, and Sports Team — a comparison they have not necessarily discouraged by employing Fontaines D.C./Squid/Black Midi producer Dan Carey on the bulk of their album. But they also hired the legendary Alan Moulder to do the mix, emphasizing their connection to the time-honored alt-rock canon. Far more than interlopers drafting off a trend, Wet Leg’s album positions them as one of those acts gifted enough to transcend their moment, existing instead in continuum with the classics.

A hefty dose of ’60s pop echoes back through Wet Leg’s music: stated influences the Ronettes and Jane Birkin but also mods like the Kinks and the ’90s Britpop scene they inspired — the likes of Pulp and Elastica and Blur, with their mighty hooks and wry social commentary. Groovy post-punk pioneers like the Slits and Delta 5 are in the mix, as are dance-rock descendants like Franz Ferdinand and LCD Soundsystem. The oblique pop genius of slacker-rock kings Pavement, the mechanistic cool of fellow fast-track lightning rods the Strokes, the sisterly camaraderie of Haim, the new wave party vibes of the B-52’s, the surf-rock of the Pixies, the detached descriptiveness of Courtney Barnett — all this and more can be heard in Wet Leg‘s dozen tracks. But rarely does a reference point overshadow the band’s own instantly honed identity, other than perhaps when they borrow the guitar line from “The Man Who Sold The World.”

For a while I did not understand the extreme reactions to Wet Leg. On one hand, the killjoys who are so aggravated by the band’s overnight success seem to lack the ability to have any fun at all. On the other hand, I admittedly thought of “Chaise Longue” as a fleeting lark and was surprised when Wet Leg blew up so big so fast. But onstage at a midsize club in Columbus last month, their tuneful dynamism stood out. The sold-out crowd wasn’t just responding to “Chaise Longue” — they were bouncing along to hit after soon-to-be hit, singing and dancing and smiling in a way you don’t always get from buzz bands. The album crystallizes that sensation, applying just enough polish to these women’s formidable talent and charisma without undercutting their homespun charm. Wet Leg don’t carry themselves like an important band, but with an album this magnetic, they’re becoming significant in spite of themselves. I hope they keep angering their haters for a very long time.

Wet Leg is out 4/8 on Domino.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Father John Misty’s Chloe And The Next 20th Century, which we’ll weigh in on soon
• Jack White’s Fear Of The Dawn, which, ditto
• Syd’s Broken Hearts Club
• Vince Staples’ Ramona Park Broke My Heart
• Grizzly Bear member Daniel Rossen’s debut solo album You Belong There
• billy woods & Preservation’s Aethiopes
• Teen buzz band the Linda Lindas’ Growing Up
• Kae Tempest’s The Line Is A Curve
• Orville Peck’s BRONCO
• Camila Cabello’s Familia
• HEALTH’s DISCO4 :: PART II
• Girl Talk, Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T., Smoke DZA’s Full Court Press
• The self-titled debut of Loraine James’ ambient project Whatever The Weather
• Lucius’ Second Nature
• Calexico’s El Mirador
• Oceanator’s Nothing’s Ever Fine
• Pendant’s Harp
• Deer Scout’s Woodpecker
• Wet Tuna’s Warping All By Yourself
• Renata Zeiguer’s Picnic In The Dark
• Romero’s Turn It On!
• John Vanderslice’s first album as ORANGEPURPLEBEACH, d E A T h ~ b U g
• The Regrettes’ Further Joy
• Pictoria Vark’s The Parts I Dread
• Michelle Willis’ Just One Voice
• The Vaccines’ Planet Of The Youth
• Omar Apollo’s IVORY
• The Insides’ Curse At The Sun, Cry Over Rain
• Annie Blackman’s All Of It
• BANKS’ SERPENTINA
• Brush’s Cabeza
• Pavement’s deluxe reissue Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal
• The Everything Everywhere All At Once soundtrack
• Rosie Thomas’ Lullabies For Parents, Vol 1 EP
• Andy Partridge’s My Failed Songwriting Career – Vol 2 EP

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