album review: underwater +

Written by Raven Yamamoto

Whether you’re driving on a road that leads nowhere or laying in an endless field of dandelions, Inner Wave’s newest album, Underwater +, is the seven-song soundtrack to your fondest daydream. Each song sounds like it could loop endlessly, playing over and over, before following you into your sleep. It’s the same combination of catchy, surreal beats alongside lyrics of self-loathing that we love from Inner Wave, with a fresh, new spin.

Like the album’s title and cover art might suggest, Underwater + is like a “part two” of the band’s previous album, Underwater Pipe Dreams. However, while Underwater Pipe Dreams had a clear enterlude and exitlude as a full album, Underwater + is more like an anthology of songs that cover Inner Wave’s vast range of styles in its seven, short tracks. The mini album gives you another taste of the flavor you couldn’t get enough of from Underwater Pipe Dreams, each song seeming like it simply didn’t make the cut the first time around.

The tracks “Whoa” and “Fine” were first released as singles towards the end of 2018 before Underwater +’s release in December. Fans were naturally intrigued, as the tracks seemed like fresh takes on the vibe that we got from Underwater Pipe Dreams. “Whoa” (ft. Banes World) starts the album off with a bang, giving us another strong, percussive beat accompanied by echoed vocals. “Fine” has more of an 8-bit feel to it, featuring grainy, pitched-up vocals and digital sound effects that you might hear in a video game throughout, uniquely combining them with Inner Wave’s signature alternative sound.

“2031” and “Babbadook,” to me, are the “sweet” songs of the album. They’re upbeat, useful of angelic instruments like the xylophone and high key airy vocals. Both of them sound like what you would hear in a feel-good romantic comedy in the ‘70s or ‘80s. If you just listened to the instrumentals of the songs, you’d think they were happy-go-lucky love songs, but the lyrics about sadness and departure throw you for a loop in typical Inner Wave fashion.

“Autophobia” and “Untitled Two” are the most instrument-heavy tracks of the album, abundant with the hypnotic electric guitar riffs and layered vocals. “Autophobia” gives us a lighter, slower tune that we’re used to from Inner Wave whereas “Untitled Two” shifts the tempo of Underwater + from steady to staggered. The lyrics become much darker and centered around loneliness and the vocals are much harsher, making it a perfect interlude to the album’s final track, “Second Best.”

A somber piano ballad, “Second Best” brings a symphony of easygoing beats to a screeching halt. Out of all the tracks on the album, “Second Best” has the most simple arrangement. It starts off purely with Inner the band’s signature, soft vocals and a harsh piano melody before slowly becoming a hybrid of modern and vintage music. Along with the band’s usual surreal ambient noise, orchestra-like sounds are introduced in the background that crescendo with the piano as the song continues. The coarseness of the vocals makes them sound almost filtered, creating this semi-vintage, old Hollywood sound right down to the crackle of static on a vinyl record at the end. The track ends abruptly with ambient coffee shop noise, leaving us to wonder if all these songs were, in fact, a part of someone’s short-lived daydream.

All in all, Underwater + checks all of Inner Wave’s boxes. Simultaneously eccentric but endearing, the album gives us another handful of earworms that we’ll be nodding our heads to for days. The album’s length might signify that the “Underwater” era is over now that these final tracks have been released and that Inner Wave might be headed in a new direction. Perhaps the band might venture on land this new year.

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