Chicago-based noise quartet Koalra has released their second LP, and it’s the most expansive work the band has ever made to date. The Wakes blends together elements of shoegaze, new wave and post punk, and deftly uses them to illustrate varying degrees of moods and emotions. Influences from artists like Sonic Youth and The Cure can still be seen in their songs, but they’ve grown and evolved so much that it’s getting harder to pin down their music with each release. The band has clearly been stretching their limits, as concepts explored in their blistering self-titled debut and the emotionally stirring EP Surprise Lights coalesce in this well-rounded offering.
Noise rock is still the band’s staple, and it’s where most of their experimentation shines. Opener “Good Comes Back” has lingering tones of abrasive, buzz-sawing noise, but the vocal melodies and the instruments give this a more uplifting mood. In “Deflection”, the tone shifts to the exact opposite. It follows a narrator wrestling with denial and stress in their lives. The band illustrates this with atonality and clashing harmonies, effectively painting their state of mind with sound. “A Failing Heart” is one of the heaviest tracks of the album, it mixes the blistering speed of hardcore with the grinding guitar tones of classic hard rock.
Then we have the lighter tracks. “Tell Me I’m Not” evokes a calm and soothing feeling. Like sensing the cool mountain breeze from the windows of your front porch. Its restless droning rhythms are quelled by its male-female vocal harmonies, all draped with an airy reverb. “Good Reasons”, “Hooked” and the highlight “Shimmering” follow in a similar vein. It’s where the band constrains their noise levels in favor of bright harmonies and glittering riffs. It’s in these shifts that their versatility comes to light, able to move from growling noise to smoother tones as the song demands.
This push and pull motion lingers on all throughout the 14-track listing of The Wakes. And in some instances, you get both at the same time. “Mercy Push” crunches it’s guitars hard, but it has a psych element to its otherworldly vocals, evoking the feeling of being suspended in zero-gravity. “Lifted” is jangly and atmospheric, yet doused with a restless atonal energy that gives it an unnerving feeling.
My favorite tracks are at the tail end of the album. “You Let My Mind Down” is an atmospheric slow burn where the emotions clash the hardest. It’s instrumentation is uplifting, while the vocals and lyrics share a story of deep-seated mental anguish. “Hold Off” feels like a mixture of midwest emo and 80’s new wave, which is surprisingly a good combination that makes perfect sense.Koalra showcases their improvement and evolution in this latest offering. If you love all things indie rock, The Wakes is something you shouldn’t ignore.