Formed in 2014 and consisting of members of Grails (Zak Riles) and Slint (Britt Walford), Watter ruffled a few feathers with their debut album, This World, with its new age feel and the guest appearances from Rachel Grimes and Tony Levin (King Crimson and Peter Gabriel).
History Of The Future sees the band opening their sound out considerably. Now down to a duo of Riles and Tyler Trotter, you’d expect the pair to perhaps be more focused on a particular sound or direction, but instead, they’ve embraced a whole host of musical genres. Still, they’ve got plenty of collaborators to help them achieve their goals, Riles and Trotter might be the beating heart of Watter, but Walford and Grimes return to the fold to provide guest spots along with Bundy K Brown of Tortoise, Todd Cook and Dominic Cipolla.
The album’s title is particularly apposite, because the band’s approach is most definitely informed by the instrumental tidal shifts and slow build up of post-rock (as you would expect from a band that numbers Grails and Slint members in its number). Yet it also looks back and embraces the sounds of the past, sometimes passing them through the post-rock wringer, and sometimes just allowing them to inform the flow and musical narrative. The result is a clutch of songs that are not only covered in a thin layer of historical dust, but that also have a sense of newness to them.
The intro to Depth Charge for example, appears to reference the intro and outro of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Run Through The Jungle. John Fogerty recently stated that his song (written in 1970) is about gun control in the US, a topic that seems more relevant now than it did back then. The song itself barely resembles Creedence at all beyond this one tiny allusion, and plunges headfirst into a relentless mechanical stomp, with industrial beats rumbling beneath an ominous thrum of electro synths. It becomes a hypnotic march that takes hold and does not let go until the fade out, at which point the urge to form a militia, purchase an old Red Army tank and occupy Milton Keynes becomes almost too much to bear. An intriguing three way of electronica, synth pop with oceanic post-rock informs the opening track, Telos, It could easily have ended up on the soundtrack for Stranger Things had SURVIVE not already sewn that gig up.
Shadow Chase also has something of an ’80s vibe to it and conjures up those shows where the car (Knight Rider), the helicopter (Airwolf or Blue Thunder), or motorbike (Street Hawk) was the star. We’re still waiting for a high octane hot air balloon based action series, but make no mistake, this is the kind of soundtrack it would require. Deep South guitars twang, Middle Eastern influences bubble under, and darkened club dancefloor sensibilities combine to leave little doubt that there’s definitely a pursuit occuring, in a shady area, and possibly involving some form of transportation (though possibly not a horse). In a similar vein is Death Knock, which looks further back than the ’80s and would be quite at home soundtracking The Persuaders or some kind of suave detective show.
There are moments where Watter struggle to maintain momentum, Sacrificial Leaf meanders in noncommittal fashion and does little to, whilst Liquid Of Life could be a Public Service Broadcasting outtake on the importance of water. It takes a little while to really establish itself and then, just as it bursts into life, it fades out – the liquid of life apparently dampening Watter’s squib somewhat.
When it clicks however, Watter are truly a force to be reckoned with. The soaring Macho Milano might be driven by a single simple drum pattern, but the layered guitars and smart synths combine to sound like a punch up between Black Sabbath and Tangerine Dream, on a mountain; in HD. Then, as an encore, they couple easy listening jazz workouts with an undulating post-rock riff for the album’s title track, making it one of those songs that sounds both appalling and absolutely gratifying simultaneously, until it coalesces in one almighty wave of noise at its conclusion and becomes an unstoppable and awesome force.
When they’re not pounding everyone into submission with their truly epic incarnation, they’re more than capable of calm and subtle, and Final Sunrise closes the album out with a wash of gentle acoustic guitar, it’s a delicate way to end things, if not particularly ground breaking. History Of The Future is patchy in places, but as a post-rock ouroboros, it most definitely succeeds.