Water From Your Eyes: Everyone’s Crushed review – style-hopping indie duo find focus in chaos | Music

Everybody’s Crushed album artwork.

We live in an environment that encourages rock and pop artists to make an immediate splash, to cut through the digital noise and the plethora of musicians jostling for attention on streaming services by appearing fully formed, as exciting on arrival as they’re ever going to be: in a world where tens of thousands of new tracks are uploaded every day, you’d better stand out straight away. Carving out the space to evolve or develop isn’t easy, so it’s impressive when you encounter a band that has managed it.

Everybody’s Crushed album artwork.

Which brings us to Brooklyn-based duo Water From Your Eyes. The duo, Rachel Brown and Nate Amos, started out as nothing special. Their 2017 debut, Long Days No Dreams, covered so many modish US indie bases – bedroom synth-pop, offbeat post-punk and distorted digital noise, shoegazey textures, introverted acoustic balladry and what Americans persist in calling tweepop – it might as well have been called 6.9 From Pitchfork: fine if you like that sort of thing, but there really was more than enough of that sort of thing already available.

In ensuing years, they kept plugging away, audibly searching for an identity of their own. There were concept albums and a collection of covers from which a dead-eyed version of Eminem’s Lose Yourself attracted attention. An experimental, idiosyncratic sound coalesced on 2021’s Structure, but it’s on Everyone’s Crushed that it pulls into focus, if that’s the right metaphor for a cut-up, sample-heavy sound that feels wilfully chaotic and scattered.

The most obvious comparison might be the swarming overload of Low’s most recent albums – notably when Open devolves into squealing, distorted guitar interrupted by digital noise – although occasionally you can trace the ghost of past generations of alt-rock: the detuned guitars and drones of 14 vaguely evoke Sonic Youth, as droning detuned guitars are wont to do. But Everyone’s Crushed feels more straightforwardly poppy than either band. Notwithstanding all the cut-up, oddly bluesy guitar licks, its key sonic factor may be a warped approach to noises familiar from mid-80s pop – breathy, pan-pipe-esque electronic tones; synths that sound a little like steel drums; the kind of vocal samples that were the dernier cri in cutting-edge pop around 1985, thanks to the arrival of the Emulator synthesiser and the Art of Noise. It twists them until they sound off-key and disquieting rather than comfortingly familiar, marooning them over slippery rhythms and jutting them against rumbling live drums and bass, letting them spiral out of time. On Out There and Barley the effect is thrilling, as if everything is both teeming and on the verge of spinning completely out of control.

Water From Your Eyes: Barley – video

Some of the improvements are almost boringly prosaic, but crucial nevertheless. Brown’s voice, which in the past often seemed content to inhabit an area in roughly the same postal district as the tune, feels stronger. Strong enough, in fact, to foreground, which lends a curious heft to their untrained voice: there’s a weird tension in hearing someone who sounds like they’re distractedly singing to themselves put front and centre in the mix.

A tendency to inverted-commas irony – characteristic of artists who grew up online – has conversely been dialled down. True Life ends with a verse about the song itself, detailing the band’s failed attempt to get Neil Young to let them use the lyrics from his 1969 track Cinnamon Girl, interpolated with lawsuit-dodging paraphrases of said lyrics, but it doesn’t overwhelm the song. The track’s power lies in its blasting atonal guitar riff and thundering drums, not the self-conscious meta stuff.

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Their lyrical approach could do with more honing. Usually abstract to the point of incomprehension, their songwriting here is at times more direct. But the message appears to be about how terrible the past few years have been, presumably for the benefit of anyone in their audience who has found the past few years an unceasing hoot. It’s inarguable to the point that it seems hardly worth saying (“tell me something I haven’t been told,” as True Life puts it). This is particularly true of tracks like the anti-consumerism-themed closer Buy My Product: “Buy my product / There are no happy endings / I’m spending,” it offers, over one of the album’s most appealing backdrops, a taut bass and drum pattern disrupted by bursts of skittish guitar and ominous cello. It’s better when the lyrics take their cue from the fragmented backing – the chaotic word salad of Out There – or when odd, intriguing phrases loom out of the confusion: “I traced what I erased”, “knowing you is a thunderstorm”.

Still, it’s not the only recent album occasionally given to stating the obvious: more important is the fact that Everyone’s Crushed is the only recent album that sounds the way it does. It has taken Water From Your Eyes six years to reach a point where their music feels genuinely original, a journey that feels worth it. There’s a lesson in there.

This week Alexis listened to

King Krule – If It Only Was Warmth
A song that feels like you’re eavesdropping on something private: subdued, heartsore, compelling.

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