Music » Record Review

Waumiss' Subtle for Flames

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In the four years since the self-titled debut from Waumiss, the playful husband-and-wife duo of Clarque and Caroline Blomquist, the band has released only two tracks, both remixes: one of Whatever Brains' "You're Melting" and the other of Mikael Jorgensen's "Love Drug." Like Waumiss, both the Raleigh post-punk pranksters and the Wilco keyboardist make music aptly described as adventurous: The Brains bend hooks from crooked guitar barbs and keyboard throbs, while Jorgensen funnels Krautrock pulse and country melody into instrumental meanders. Even if they relish detours along the way, both craft songs with clear beginnings and ends.

But Waumiss' button-pushing music seemed to be a collection of stray ideas, making it experimental in a very literal way. The thrill of finding new combinations of sounds—playing with samples and vocal effects, layered percussion and free-form songwriting—often subsumed song structure. The debut produced more than a few moments of catchy, off-kilter promise, but its tracks often felt more like sketches.

The band's remix exercises, though, seem to have proven instructive; now a trio with the addition of Charlie Hearon, Waumiss strengthens the structures on its second full-length, Subtle for Flames. Better arranged tunes, like the polyrhythmic psych-funk of "Calling Mary Punch" and the almost garage-rocking fuzzbomb "Traditional Squirrel," embrace a relatively straightforward approach, revealing Waumiss' pop aptitude. The band's restlessness won't let it linger, though. "shame on you, Judy" interrupts with churning noise; "this magical world" clashes chiming guitars against disorienting electronics. These divergent interludes operate as bridges, linking the Goblin-ish clangor of "GLAUW-RIOUS music" to the mutant exotica of "such spirits we sought to imbibe / maxi-yow-mini," or the kaleidoscopic visions of "The Device" to the lo-fi folk-pop on "I stabbed you once with a hundred knives."

Subtle for Flames retains the band's playful spirit and divergent impulses, but there's a newfound focus to Waumiss these days. That consistency in tone makes this album feel more fully realized than its predecessor and affords Waumiss a gravity that helps its songs stick around.

Label: Little Ramona Records

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