This land is righteous and ashamed,
But we’re okay,
Tell yourself you’re okay
– “This Land” by Washer
By the time Washer’s singer/guitarist/bassist Mike Quigley yells these words on the back half of the Brooklyn duo’s debut LP, Here Comes Washer (out now via Exploding in Sound), listeners have become familiar with the desperate, wrenching desire for self-assurance they evince. The song is just one of 14 on an album coming in under 30 minutes, a whirlwind of noise and urgency. And rather than robbing the lyrics of their power, this makes them even more searing.
Following up the Bighead EP and a pair of split 7”s, Washer’s new record repeatedly paints a picture of the world as lonely and morally bankrupt, a place where staying true to one’s own principles is the only defense, but knowing thyself is as big a challenge as any the world offers.
In other words, Washer made an album about growing up.
And that sounds reductive because it is. Here Comes Washer is a record possessed of a dynamic emotional range, and the band addresses itself to a slate of issues with a nuanced blend of punk confrontation, sharp self-awareness, and blistering rock’n’roll. While it is about growing up, the LP also feels so personal and specific that it transcends the sorts of pop-punk clichés that description calls to mind.
A song like album opener “Eyelids,” hooks us with a lilting bassline, and Quigley sings:
In the daylight I’d stumble through collections of red,
Until crawling back slowly beside you in bed,
And in the morning I’d struggle to keep my feed inside,
Right terrified, fear of the outside
He gives us an oblique love song that lays bare not just the comfort, but the existential security, of a fulfilling relationship, a way to stop stumbling through life. On a personal level that sense of safety can be grounding, but that assurance stands in contrast to the unpredictability of the rest of the world, resulting in a sort of spiritual agoraphobia.
Listen: “Eyelids” – Washer
And Quigley gives us reason to believe it isn’t merely panic. Rather, with a whip-smart Don DeLillo quotation, he doubles down on the legitimacy of his world-wariness, singing:
And lead us not into annihilation
But deliver us from rubble
For thine is the power, and the power…
Forever and never, oh man…
As he sings “Forever and never…” the bass and the drums (courtesy of Kieran McShane, whose textural drumming throughout the album consistently elevates the duo’s sound) kick into high gear. The rising energy of the song combines with Quigley’s overwhelmed delivery of “Oh, man,” to completely sell a dystopian take on the Lord’s Prayer.
That track’s bleakness is matched by one of the album’s stand-out songs, “Pet Rock vs. Healing Crystal.” The song describes two characters: the first, a woman so unrooted that she considers her pet rock a friend and the second a man so desperate for salvation that he seeks it in his healing crystal.
Listen: “Pet Rock Vs Healing Crystal” – Washer
The idiosyncrasy of the characters belies a world in which nobody has very much going for themselves. To that, Quigley offers the chorus:
Who are we to judge her (him) otherwise
It’s not like we’ve got our shit together
And as long as she (he) doesn’t hurt anyone…
The lyrics work as an honest, self-aware, and compassionate plea to accept others as they are, even in all their weirdness, because at the end of the day, life’s tough, and:
It’s a tight rope to walk
To validate yourself and
Not fall prey to someone’s
As often happens with records about growing up, written while growing up, the band can’t offer many easy answers. They’re existentially and musically still in the thick of it. But Quigley is able to glean and deliver nuggets of wisdom mostly as a result of his keen observation and self-reflection.
He cleverly engages DIY culture with the track “Do It Yourself,” which reverses the colloquial, empowering use of that phrase by turning it into the answer with which society rejects one’s plea for help. And a track like “Safe Place” dwells simultaneously on the idea of the safe space within DIY culture, a show venue or social area free from the offensive, exclusionary, and aggressive behavior that characterizes some underground music scenes, as well as the ideas of security and comfort more broadly, like in “Eyelids.” In a moment of Ian MacKaye-ish didacticism, Quigley offers:
You can express yourself
Without being violent
You can be a better person
By not keepin’ silent
Musically, Washer fits within that certain strain of underground rock music being made right now that doesn’t have a snappy, critic-approved title yet. It’s made by bands on labels like Exploding in Sound, Double Double Whammy, and Run for Cover – bands that generally, reductively, get tagged as “90s revivalists.”
That’s not to say the 90s notion is totally off base. Washer as well as bands like Pile, Big Ups, and LVL Up peddle in distortion, off-kilter melodies, and an affinity for, well, rocking that can’t help but call to mind the 90s heyday of hard-rock-alterna-everything. But the idea of a “revival” downplays the fact that what Washer is doing can’t be boiled down to a simple rehash of sonic signifiers.
Listen: “Porky” – Washer
What’s really going on is more like a progressive (but not Prog) advance in the world of guitar-pop. Tracks like “Beansy” or “Group Therapy” tease straightforward pop-punky riffs but turn them on their head with bursts of noise and volume or with math-y shifts in rhythm that counter-intuitively make the songs even hookier. And the band is steeped in – and builds off of – the influence of their peers. The fuzzy low-end of a song like “Porky,” references Stove (a group in which Quigley and McShane sometimes play) and lysergic lyricism and dynamic shifts in “Got Drunk and Ate the Sun” seem like a nod to Pile.
On one level Here Comes Washer is a record that offers a uniquely personal vision of being young in today’s world, a vision at once faithful in self-reliance and horrified by the sheer number of self-deceptive possibilities. On another level, it’s an album that ties together many threads of underground guitar music into something uniquely the group’s own. It demands unpacking, but rewards those self-assured enough to try.