After a dormant period of time due to some quite hefty line-up changes, French post-hardcore/noise-rock group Watertank have finally completed the work on their third full album and follow-up to their 2015 sophomore album Destination Unknown.
Silent Running was released on 4 September and sees Watertank incorporating other influences like shoegaze and post-rock into their trademark post-hardcore sound, indeed on first listen fans of the Manchester band Ride will feel quite at home. This progression is partly down to the input from the band’s new members in the writing process. Guitarist, singer and main songwriter Thomas Boutet always had an ability to balance grand melodies with big riffs and throaty vocals and this new effort is no exception, showcasing a more refined batch of songs that will impress a lot of people.
The album’s title has nothing to do with submarines, it’s more about the idea of evolving behind the scenes, working unexposed. Romain Donet from the punk hardcore band Chaviré joined Watertank during the recording process, and Willy Étié is now performing bass duties for the foreseeable future. Because of those personnel changes, this new batch of songs is sounding more “mainstream -rock” than before, but still loud. It’s lyrically “open-hearted, but the vocals are quite soft such that you have to strain to concentrate on them in order to detect the theme of survival and resilience flowing throughout the record.
Vocals float, melodically, innocently melancholic. Guitar work is underpinned by standard crunching chords but the riffs are nicely clean, jangly, fluid and generally interesting.
Song arrangements are very 1990’s, they smack of QOTSA and early Foo Fighters. Of the ten songs, only one is longer than four minutes, only 32 minutes of music, so the album isn’t too challenging in that sense.
And to me then, that becomes a bit of a problem, could this be “post-rock easy listening”?
Or maybe I’ve just come up with the perfect definition of shoegaze?
Envision starts weirdly, me thinking “Blimey, isn’t this Blink 182?!” This first track is quite lively, powerful and melodic, very Foo Fighters. Next up is Suffogaze – darker, rumbling chords but lightened with chiming guitars – almost Rickenbacker -style. This song trades energy and melody, slashing riffs doing the business with lovely guitar work, it’s good!
The title track Silent Running is another mix of softness and forcefulness, its now clear that this post-rock poppiness is the band’s characteristic signature, and there’s nothing wrong with that in itself…. The Ejector Side is next, slightly different in its composition, with different rhythms coming into play and a hint of raw passion in the vocals, again more than a hint of Foo Fighters.
Spiritless has another standard chord progression, smoother almost whispered vocals before the rallying choral bit hits. But it all feels a bit formulaic, to be honest the band could be playing this in their sleep, perhaps the title inadvertently captures the song itself? Timezone is better, a slower, more melancholy mood, with tasty bridge sections featuring a slightly harsher guitar sound that works well.
Beholders follows, a heavy sound but lacking something. In the same way that Ride yo-yo between genuinely interesting and “ho-hum”, so do Watertank sometimes struggle to capture my attention. Sort of garage band but without the anger. Thing of the Past suffers from the same condition, it almost feels like a practice or warm-up. I’m being harsh here but somehow the vocals lack edge, no real bite, just too smooth and harmonised?
Building World has a promising chord-riff, then topped with a dose of clean, jangly guitar, and a more interesting song composition. The final track Cryptobiosis is the longest, floating along nicely. some different guitar licks and a strong choral line combine to make this a decent closer. Good melodies and beefy rhythm section give this track a more interesting drive even before a touch of sax adds a further twist. Its good!
So that’s it – a competent record, several hints of early Foo Fighters and lots of other 90’s bands. Its pleasant but not arresting, it’s warming, lightly-distorted and well played but lacks something. Watertank are four decent musicians, I think they could do with a stronger vocal presence but that’s in common with many shoegaze bands. The main thing, like Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (ooh err…), is that it all feels formulaic, mechanical, missing that vital spark. It’s well made, but it does all sound so familiar. It’s all been done before, and the record lacks that something magical that would lift it out of the ordinary. As I said earlier, it’s odd that a track called “Spiritless” is just that…
Romain Donet – Guitar,
Jocelyn Liorzou – Drums,
Willy Etié – Bass
Thomas Boutet – Vocal / Guitar
As I say, actually listening to this record is enjoyable, without ever getting your dander up The style is anthemic but in a fairly derivative, formulaic way? I think the band is clearly very comfortable writing and playing this way – but I also think they could be better, they owe it to themselves and the listener to break out of this comfort zone?