Devoted To You by Wives examines the effects of devotion to others and to ideals, revealing the unhealthy nature of being subservient and the power some exercise over others. This band is unleashing pent-up aggression and frustration, while also allowing vulnerable aspects of their selves to be laid bare. This album showcases the scars of past experiences and serves as a warning on how to avoid similar pitfalls.
Back in 2014 I wrote a little something about a Canberra band called Wives. They had released a fresh, jagged and interesting tune called ‘Buried’, marking a change of direction from a previous incarnation. I dug the song, but something kept me from loving it – I can’t remember what. Anyway, Wives are back with a full-length record, Devoted To You, which was released through Nopatience Records earlier in January. From the outset it’s a resonant and potent mixture of pointed punk and esoteric layering. It is a dissection of the inner machinations of the soul – laying bare desires, fears and secrets.
The album moves through phases of frenetic activity and meandering builds – molasses heated until fluid and syrupy. The main device employed by Wives throughout the album is repetition. Lyrical fragments are underscored and emphasised simply by being repeated, making sure you catch the intention and meaning of what is being said. The instrumentation never tries to get ahead of the intended message – guitar-driven, jagged and taught post-punk can sometimes be overindulgent (especially when more than one guitar is involved). Wives keep things retrained for the most part, letting attention be drawn primarily the evocations lead vocalist Anja who treads the line between forlorn poet, scorned demagogue and grim sorceress. No one element of any song dominates as Wives play around with fitting the pieces together into a simple and effective whole rather than combating to be heard. Loud or quiet, harsh or soft, Wives manage to pull off any volume and tempo in consummate fashion.
Devoted To You kicks off with ‘I Want/I Want’ a languid and unsettling opener that builds slow and moves from hypnotic to dissonant. It evokes a longing, a desire to be rescued – from what, I am unsure. ‘Buried’ is up next, bringing the first dose of punchy punk. ‘To Sin’ maintains the pace and dabbles heavily in repeated mantras (“You wore, you wore me in / temptation is a sin”) and seems to grapple with the notion of physical desire equalling sin, as if lust and succumbing to human urges always comes with a penance. ‘Blue’ shifts the tone and takes us underground, into the darker reaches of the psyche. With ‘Blue’ we are placed in a pit of depression dug in the aftermath of a break up (I think, not certain) and searching for the light to guide us back to level ground (“fill my belly with gold / to buy back my sun you stole”).
‘≠’ is the most impactful song on the album, as it serves as moment of respite from the pace, but also utilises the shifted tempo to express the most amount of frustration. The song addresses the fight against misogynistic behaviour in modern Australia, the frustration surrounding men in power acting and speaking on behalf of women (“This man has no right to speak for me / this minister has no right to speak for me”) and not being able to express opinions or use one’s own voice (“All these people have no right to speak for me”) Anja’s spoken word approach is accompanied by sparse guitar, pattering drums and lightly brushed cymbals. The words are the focus and these words must be listened to.
From what I gather, ‘Altar’ likens the power of desire and attraction to the vice grip that religion holds over many. It touches on being beholden to another – perhaps happily, perhaps harmfully. What is sacrificed when you give yourself over completely? ‘He’ shifts the tone to one of paranoia, loss of hope and desperation. The album fades out with ‘Unholy Love’ a mournful piece that does nothing to fill the pit in your stomach.
Wives have crafted an album that carries serious weight and they shoulder the load with poise. The album examines devotion to others and to ideals, and it reveals the unhealthy nature of subjugation and the power some exercise over others. It looks at injustices and rebels against the idea of being chained to anything or anyone. Wives examine the constant give and take (mostly take) inherent in modern society – the heartlessness of institutions, the callousness of individuals, the constant bullshit of everything. Perhaps this is an overly pessimistic album, but the messages are worth the blues that come from copping a reality check. The musicianship is on point, conveying the sentiments of the lyrics with a matching sonic aesthetic. I’ll concede that the music isn’t for everyone, and that it might not linger on the mind for very long but if you are energised by music that carries a message and delivers it with a fist then you might just enjoy what Wives have to offer.