The first time someone told me that it was a rite of passage to see a Wild Moccasins show in Houston, I was 16 years old.
I was a dork at the time — still am, but I used to be too — so I knew I had no choice but to wait patiently for my chance to ascend the ranks of hip Houston kid-ness until they finally released a new album, one they called Microscopic Metronomes, and I found out that they were releasing it on CD at a place at the time I had never been before, called Walter’s. I went, got a free copy, and thought, “Well, this is pretty rad.”
It’s been a little over 8 years since that day, and that same band has now toured the country — and the world — a few times (even opening for the likes of Of Montreal in Europe), released a couple of records, and played just a few more times around town.
Last Friday a moment like that has finally come again, as the band has returned to release their third full-length album, Look Together. This album, four years in the making, follows 2014’s 88 92. It’s a solid return to form for the newly-down-a-member quartet (with a somewhat altered line-up).
Opening with intensity on “Boyish Wave,” one immediately feels a palpable leap in style from their softer indie pop on past records to almost straight up disco. The band sounds more confident than ever, spurring wonder if the song is perhaps an anthem for a newfound spirit that has something to do with vocalist Zahira Gutierrez, who recently spoke with FPH about the effect that a split between her romantic partner/bandmate, guitarist Cody Swann, had on the record.
This theme is exemplified in the following track, “Temporary Vase.” In it Gutierrez sings “Today, I’ve decided to hardly exist, decided to just not resist” and “I’m waiting for the memory to erase,” suggesting that perhaps she felt an obligation of complacency in her romantic past, an uncomfortable but powerful admission when you consider that the person she is likely referring to is playing right next to her while she sings it.
Oddly enough, this awkward tension doesn’t seem to hold the album back in the slightest. In fact, the strange emotional authenticity present in Look Together gives the band it’s most raw, most real, most fresh sound in years.
Nowhere is that more present than the album’s third track, and my personal favorite, “Longtime Listener,” whose video was released a few months before the record. The electric single is a killer jangly/art rock cut that feels like a strange relic from a better version of 2002 where the band is a bizzaro version of the Cranberries or A Sunny Day in Glasgow (keen music fans will note that the former was actually on the verge of a breakup and the latter wouldn’t even form for another four years, to which I say: fuck you).
The band continues on their gloomy, disco voyage with “Missing You (The Most)” and “Doe-Eyed Dancer,” the former reminiscing upon the anguish of losing a person themselves even more than the memories they share with them after a breakup. The latter is seemingly a continuation of the same chord progressions as the track before but bled into a bitter narrative of the present, where Gutierrez bemoans her former partner for settling for less in the fashion of something from a Grimes record with a few less 808’s.
Also unique to the album, and unlike past releases from the band, the vocal duties are handled entirely by Gutierrez, as opposed to being shared with Swann or other members of the project.
Skipping ahead to the album’s middle track, “Look Together” fittingly shares the record’s title as it represents a consummate embodiment of the paradoxical emotions at the heart of the release. It’s dance-y, but confusing; upbeat, but with a melancholic edge.
Its title refers to the image of themselves that the duo at the center projects, with Gutierrez rhetorically pressing, “Do we look together? Do we look the part? Do we look together, although we’re apart?” and “if we are empty, why did we start?” Coexisting with the raucous rhythm section of which newest member, drummer Avery Davis, is likely responsible.
“Desired Effect” maintains the thread, expounding upon the basis for which Gutierrez finds love to be predicated, but ultimately admitting a shred of the toxicity at the heart of the relationship with lines like “I never fix my mascara when it smears, it’s the only way to let you know I’m being clear.” In terms of arrangements, the electro/indie-pop jam reminds me the most of prior work by the band.
The record veers back towards the ’80s even harder with some of the synth work present on “No Muse,” another impassioned tale of the particular cycle of abuse present often in relationships in which one partner is considered by the other to be a “muse.” In this case, a situation that Gutierrez argues is tantamount to her being of no use “unless she’s undressed.”
Finishing bombastically with “Waterless Cup,” the album finds itself full circle in it’s exploration of the emotional complexity at the heart of love, or at the very least, the heart of their love, in that Gutierrez admits that the failure of love is most often a two-way street because she was just as responsible for the “change of heart,” dejectedly crooning, “It’s not the pill I swallow, it’s the guilt that follows” and finishing the album with the words reprising the hook from the title track, “After all we’re together but apart, and I know it’s all my fault.”
At almost an hour, the record begins to repeat itself a tad both in lyrical content and pop flare, particularly in the back half, but not enough to bore. While perhaps not the most relatable experience for all, Look Together is one of the most refreshingly honest records I’ve heard in some time, and it is certain to tug the heartstrings of anyone who knows the pain of a toxic relationship or the plights of one-sided love affairs.
It shows off a newfound groove unheard in any past record from the band, with the strength to move a dance floor but enough intimacy and sensitivity to bring you to tears. With any luck, it will cement the band’s continued place in the annals of Houston music folklore, and/or at least in the heart of this forever 16-year-old kid from Spring Branch.
Snag a copy of Look Together from New West Records, available now in digital, vinyl, and CD, or stream it on most popular platforms. Be sure to catch them when they debut it live in Houston for the first time at White Oak Music Hall this Saturday, July 7, at their record release party. Doors are at 8 p.m. Camera Cult and El Lago are opening, and tickets are just $10.