Without going into tedious detail, I spent the last couple of weeks of summer nursing a hearty dose of depression, thanks to blind fate forcing me to stare hard at my mortality (long, dull story). The incident stirred within me the dispiriting notion that life is a mundane descent into nothingness, and that every being hurtling towards that oblivion is subject to the spastic whims of a completely random universe.
Cliché as it sounds, music pulled me from that depressive rabbit hole; specifically psychedelic pop, and even more specifically Hello Beautiful Nothing, the great sophomore full-length from Seattle-based collective Wall of Ears.
I’ve always been a massive fan of psych-rock and pop—the more surreal and delirious, the better. And at its best, psych music just might be rock’s most life-affirming sonic sub-genre. Existence may be a shit-show divorced from order and reason, but the best psychedelic music acknowledges the wonder, absurdity, and astonishment that burst forth from this lurching, messy universe. You just need the right guide to show you where to look, and how to look at it.
CW Lott, Wall of Ears’ principal songwriter, singer, and spiritual leader, knows where and how to look, and he’s a full-on shaman/witness to every minute detail. His often surreal lyrics revel in what his senses are delivering to him, and he can’t wait to share. “This ain’t a dream/no, this is actual,” he declaims in “Sea Legs,” the mesmerizing, pulsing call to sensory exploration that opens the record.
Lott welcomes and embraces the inherent paradox of being human—how we can see the entire universe in a grain of sand, all the while tethered to the sacks of meat, blood, and bone that are our bodies. The magnificent “Raygun” chronicles sexuality (or, just as likely, love or enlightenment) at its most base, and at its most transcendent, all at once (“You wrap your legs around my face/filling my head up”). And the relentlessly percussive, sensual groove of the song embodies the lyrical mix of the primal and sublime. In the Wall of Ears universe, even the simple act of stepping outdoors is a celebration: Lott sings, “If we go outside, the air will involve itself with my face,” in the unbridled, awestruck tones of a wide-eyed kid on “We Go Outside”
Some of Lott’s lyrics are wonderfully, head-scratchingly silly—he goes to great pains to explain how he’s “a hot-dog in the morning type of guy” on “Talker”—but there’s a sharp intelligence at play, too. “Mind Moves” starts out as a late-night reverie behind the wheel (“Midnite drive with the windows down/so sick of thinking, just get in the van”). Then it segues into what sounds like a damning critique of ‘Murica, sung with the most deceptively broad smile (“Dream of America/You’ve honed your exterior, where’s your heartbeat?”).
Those distinctive and vivid lyrics are deployed in service to a consistently great set of tunes. Lott the composer cherry-picks from a treasure chest of influences, from vintage psychedelia to a pinch of Flaming Lips-style sonic adventuring to dollops of 1980s and ‘90s post-punk dance music. Tracks like “Ooze Out” and “Raygun” scratch the trippy dance-track itch superbly, while “Don’t You Know” boasts a splendid, rattletrap Syd Barrett vibe replete with exaggerated cockney drawl. Lott’s Midas touch gets the most mileage out of the insidiously catchy “Mind Moves,” as he mines pop gold from keyboard hooks so cheesy they should be orange and packed in a spray can.
Hello Beautiful Nothing is a stunning leap forward in confidence and songcraft for such a young band. It’s also a psychedelic pop record that could’ve only been born in the 21st century, distilling 50+ years of sonic tripping into a lean ten-song, 34-minute package that never flags.
If there’s anything close to a flaw in this wonderful record, it just might, ironically, be that concision. Most of the songs zip by in three minute bursts: The brilliant, Duran Duran-tripping-balls album highlight, “We Go Outside,” clocks in at barely two-and-a-half. All 34 minutes ricochet by so rapidly, it can’t help but leave you aching for more.
Then again, CW Lott’s likely just crazy like a fox, laying the groundwork for some hardcore repeat listening (I can’t deny it worked on me). Hello again, and again, and again, Beautiful Nothing.