self-released / 2015
Recent Brooklyn-via-Florida transplant WASHA (aka Dwight Pendleton) released the first half of his debut LP last year, and the growth that's taken place in the interim is shocking. His new The Bright, Part II is evidence that the 21-year-old is equipped not just with a fancy set of effects pedals and synthesizers, but a keen ear and most importantly a will to make daring music.
Pendleton's debut had its pleasures, with a cloistered Youth Lagoon sound and lyrical nods to Terrence Malick's film To the Wonder, but this follow-up is in a completely different level. While the two segments are meant work as a piece and be listened to together, even a new listener would notice an aesthetic shift once the fractured electronic clangs and wailing guitar kick up on Part II's first track, "Veins". Instead of the ambient claustrophobia of Part I, this is a collection of widescreen soundscapes, with an aggressive focus on distorted effects and syncopated percussion. There's a new sense of economy and purpose, too. While Part I's songs seemed to spool themselves out ad hoc and sometimes dragged as a result, these progressions have a sense of coherence and direction that makes them vital.
One way The Bright, Part II does link seamlessly with its predecessor is in its lyrical themes. Conceived as an interior documentary of Pendleton's struggles with depression, The Bright's emotional arc is by turns despondent and ecstatic. For him, the two states are inextricable, with one giving birth directly to the other - the track "I Am Growing" locates the beginning of new life at precisely the point where despair's grip is surest: "Spirit, I have nothing left/All I ask is resurrection". In general, though, the lyrics represent one of Part II's weaker aspects. While these songs were produced and recorded in 2015, they were written back in 2013 at the same time as the first installment's, so they're rendered in the same broad stroke. Yet even when it drifts into cliche, The Bright is deeply earnest, and WASHA's message comes through clear.
The album has several other memorable moments, too - the industrial bedroom pop of "Night/Day" and the spacey, depth charge beats of "Bury Our Love" come to mind - but the standout is the glistening "Father Figure", where Pendleton lets glassy guitar tones mingle with drum machines and a cascade of piano. While his voice is often hidden behind WASHA's production, in the track's final refrains it's front-and-center, and his impassioned pledge ("I swear that I'll be a father figure") has real verve.
While it's ostensibly just the final half of a full-length, this six-track record feels like a leap forward, and goes a long way toward carving out a unique sound for Pendleton. With such a choked field these days, it's tough for laptop-wielding, knob-spinning experimental indie poppers to distinguish themselves, but if WASHA keeps this up, he'll be just fine.