Pop ... ish: Wet Hair, February 11 at Rozz-Tox Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 12:54

Wet Hair.For Wet Hair singer and keyboardist Shawn Reed, being experimental is the only thing he can do. “Unless it’s weird and challenging, I’m just bored with it,” he said in a phone interview this week. “It just doesn’t feel important to me.”

The surprise of last year’s In Vogue Spirit was that the Iowa City band produced a batch of songs that was – for it – downright poppy.

That might seem like a contradiction unless you’re familiar with Wet Hair’s previous work, or the output of Reed’s and bandmate Ryan Garbes’ previous noise-rock outfit Raccoo-oo-oon. Pitchfork.com wrote that “in both Raccoo-oo-oon and Wet Hair, Garbes and Reed have been uncompromising in their pursuit of the outer limits. ... That hasn’t changed. But with In Vogue Spirit, Garbes and Reed have delivered a more consistent, considered record. Space is still the place, but they’ve found shortcuts to getting there.”

Or as Reed said, promoting Wet Hair’s February 11 show at Rozz-Tox: “This is being experimental for us. We never made music like this before. ... In Vogue Spirit for us as a band felt like a pretty big turning point. It felt like a departure from everything we’d done before that.”

Understand, though, that Wet Hair’s idea of pop is still pretty damned weird and challenging. The most direct song, “Fade Till Morning,” seems wary of acceptance; the drums and bass are conventional rock, but the keyboards and vocals are at opposite poles – with the synths bright, thick, and forward and the singing withdrawn and buried.

Overall, drum machines and cheesy, roller-rink-fugitive keyboards dominate, covering Reed’s casually distant vocals in a blanket. “Liquid Jesus” starts with nearly three minutes of building vibrato synthesizer before drums and bass kick in, and then the sounds mimic outer-space whale calls and a congested bagpipe. The compelling keyboard hook of “Tarantula” develops and grows over the course of the song, but it still feels largely independent of the rest of the track.

So when Reed says that the band’s new album – Spill Into Atmosphere, due this spring on the De Stijl label – travels further down the pop path, take it with a grain of salt. “This record ... doubles itself in terms of that,” he said. “The songwriting and the melodies and the singing are so much more on the top than it ever has been. ...

“In terms of recording, it’s even more layered. It’s bigger-sounding. There’s more instrumentation. It’s cleaner. There’s ... a higher sense of it being our version of pop music. It’s much more of a rock record, too,” with fewer synthesized beats and more live drums.

But he added that the band continues its sonic explorations underneath that surface. “That’s the area where we can take everything we learned in the past from making music that was more focused on the sound ... and put that ... into the melodies and behind the melodies,” he said. He called these “subsonic sound atmosphere things” and “micro elements that are slightly hiding behind the more macro elements.”

Wet Hair will perform on Saturday, February 11, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue in Rock Island, RozzTox.com). The event also features Cuticle, Teenage, and Idpyramid. Doors open at 8 p.m., cover is $5, and the event is a benefit for Moline’s Animal Aid Humane Society.