Throw a stone and you will likely hit a rock band that has released an album as a retort to the pandemic. Holy Wave’s decision to do so is far more weighty in its detail than most. The title 5 of Cups relates to the doom and gloom of vocalist Ryan Fuson’s tarot reading, drawing the card of death in human form, seemingly inciting the abandonment of the Austin psych outfit’s art.
But Holy Wave have stood up just before the count of ten, and their remedy for universal crisis comes in the form of their richest album to date. Rejecting the overtness of guitar rock, the band’s fifth LP is as likely to wow with mind-bending synthesiser as it is with hooky melodics.
They retain their peripheral melodies; Chaparral longs for an innocent past, and achieves as much with a quaint piano melody that sounds as though it was dug up from the back yard – you can hear the earthworms as well as the earworms. All is able to balance quaintness and catchiness, including Fuson’s voice, arriving mysteriously on Path of Least Resistance, suggesting it is sung not by a person but a silhouette in an alley, retaining strength whilst bombarded by synth countermelodies and Woodstock woodwinds. His words are similarly swollen but sharp on Nothing Is Real, another glance at ‘60s psychedelia, with a title that is likely a nod to Strawberry Fields Forever, kooky guitar arpeggios, and vocalisations that swim.
But the synthesisers talk back. Hypervigilance is as melodic as the best of them, but attentions will be drawn not to the melody of the synth, but the hypnotic nature of the synth, which warps and oozes as all else feels like a trip to the heart of the jungle. Synths contribute to the madness – a single note glides through Nothing in the Dark like a sudden fall through space, the acid forcing it to disregard its lack of gravity – but they also contribute to the album’s softer side. Bog Song fields synth-y layers that splash out with nostalgia and futurism, tonally owing so much to its resemblance of Pink Floyd deep-cut See-Saw, with elysian results. A synthesiser takes on the role of a siren to begin the album on the title track; all that follows is throwback baroque pop gobbled up by modernism and dusty layers – it sounds as though there should be a harpsichord in there.
Tunes may combine the album’s two main traits, particularly as Happier cycles a vintage guitar, subtle overdubs comprising more laser-y effects, and an observable vocal melody that finishes the album with a little something you’ll remember for a while. But nothing could be as startling as clear winner The Darkest Timeline; a combo of breath, guitar signatures, and synth standoffs that each flake into an uplifting finale.
This is what brews bodies that automatically refuse dishevelment, that won’t be anchored by the dread of the future, despite the insistence of prophecy. Fighting back with rushes of space age instrumentation, and ear-catching pop-isms, 5 of Cups is Holy Wave’s abounding, wound-healing resistance.