Live in the Lab:
Water From Your Eyes
With Sword II
& Reed Winckler
Music at 10:00
* * *
Life is horribly dark right now. And yet, it is not unfunny.
That’s the sentiment that animates Water From Your Eyes on their new album, and first for Matador, Everyone’s Crushed. On the follow-up to the Brooklyn duo’s 2021 breakthrough, Structure, Rachel Brown (they/them) and Nate Amos (he/him) find silliness and fatalism dancing in a frantic lockstep, using heart palpitating rhythms and absurdist, deadpan lyrics to convey stories of personal and societal unease. Described by Brown as Water From Your Eyes’ most collaborative record ever – and, as such, a kind of reset for the pair, almost like a debut, despite technically being their sixth – it’s a swollen contusion of an album: experimental pop music that’s pretty and violent, raw and indelible.
The duo started making music together in 2016 while living in Chicago, after Amos played Brown some New Order and they decided they wanted to start a “sad dance band.” Both musicians in their own right, and a couple at the time, they made their self-titled debut EP in a week. Over the next few years, Water From Your Eyes’ music drifted toward rangier and less conventional sounds, incorporating serene industrial polyrhythms, ambient drone music, and contemporary composition.
Eventually, Amos and Brown broke up, moved to New York, and began working on Structure. That album found harmony between the duo’s pop and experimental impulses, the tracklist bookended by gossamer pop songs that were a testament to both their keen grasp of vintage hooks and their trollish sense of humor. Despite finding solace in the band, both describe 2021 as one of the worst years of their lives – Brown grappling with the malaise they felt upon seeing the way that capitalism and establishment politics were kicking back into overdrive as the pandemic entered its later months, and Amos working through substance abuse issues with Brown’s support.
As a result, Everyone’s Crushed is shot through with unresolved tension, its nine tracks skittishly refusing to seek out resolute endings or stick to traditional structures. Many songs were written using serialism and microtonalism, and at times evoke the futurist-pop moves of Japanese composer Haruomi Hosono and the brutalism of Glenn Branca. “Barley” is a dance-rock track sequenced in alien tonality, with Brown speaking garbled transmissions (“One two three/Counter/You’re a cool thing count mountains”) over a bed of hallucinatory guitars. “14” leans into contemporary classical, with curtains of overlapping de-tuned strings underscoring lyrics that Nate describes as something out of a “gross-out horror movie”: “I’m ready to throw you up.”
Water From Your Eyes still possess an off-kilter, shitposty quality. Everyone’s Crushed manages to reference classic rock twice – first, on “Barley,” when Brown accidentally invokes Sting with the lyric “walk in fields of gold,” and again on “True Life”, when they sing: “Neil let me sing your song/It’s been this way for so long/Give me another chance.” Those weren’t the song’s original lyrics – Brown and Amos initially wanted to interpolate the bridge to “Cinnamon Girl” – but this is a typically meta compromise for the pair, a way to turn “True Life” into a song about writing the song “True Life”.
Everyone’s Crushed maps the liminal space between humor and darkness, between cracking up and freaking out. In the album’s closing moments Brown speaks in direct terms, “Clap those hands/Buy my product/There are no happy endings/I’m spending/I’m spending.” It’s playful and totally serious, punky bordering on anarchic, and a resolution to the record’s opening sentiment - “I just wanted to pray for the rain/Wishful thinking for sunny days.”
– Shaad D’Souza