The best country music around is coming from the Canadian north as opposed to the American south these days, and you needn’t look much further than the new album Brace Yourself by Wave 21 to appreciate how real a statement this is. Brace Yourself has a lot of rock overtones that are obvious from the get-go; big guitars, soaring harmonies, even a bit of spunkiness where there needn’t be any otherwise, but it’s melodic blueprint is one that emphasizes tone far more than it does tenacity.
This is the kind of record Nashville should be trying to produce in 2021 – but because they’re not, Wave 21 is reaping the rewards big time. The lyricism in “Stay the Night,” “My Latest Song for You,” and “Whenever You’re Near” is beautifully imagistic, but not overstated in the way that a lot of crossover content tends to be. When applying these verses to a country-inspired melodic backdrop, they take on a down-to-earth quality that I would imagine only possible in purely acoustic settings ninety percent of the time. Wave 21 can get a little country and a little rock n’ roll without stepping on the toes of establishment types on either side, which is something to marvel at all on its own.
Lead single “Why Does It Happen” features a music video that doesn’t exaggerate its narrative with too many ridiculous props, and this immediately drew me closer to its visuals. The soundtrack is comprising the best parts of the video and not the other way around, and while I don’t think they had to make it as distinctly retro in style as they did, I can also dig what they were trying to accomplish in acknowledging some of the iconic alternative rock and country acts to have pushed the envelope before they did.
The organic harmonies in “Whenever You’re Near,” “Stay the Night,” “The White Wings of an Angel” and “Over the Moon” are a step above the competition, and not only because they lack any form of synthetic backing. In addition to arriving on our stereos devoid of robotic features, these songs are sporting such a rich vocal element that I have to demand a little more spotlight on the singer in this group the next time they get into the studio together. There’s still a part of their sound that could use some further cultivation, but in terms of mechanical strength, this group has all the bases covered.
I used to think of Wave 21 as a Canadian rock group exclusively, but this new effort is just too pastoral and too expressive for me to pigeonhole their sound any further. Wave 21 are one of the most endearing acts in their scene not because of what they do here per se, but what they don’t do. They aren’t coloring in a pre-designed model here, nor are they trying to replicate the sound of another band in their scene. Whether on their own or with guest collaborators like Steve Hill (“Way Far Back”) and Sam Roberts Band (“All Over & Over”), Wave 21 is a truly unique find.
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