Front- or backloading an album has been a problem since recorded music was pressed on to full-length albums. Too often, a record will burst out of the gate with amazing momentum, only to peter out in its second half, or vice versa. In the modern age, cherry-picking tracks for playlists has become much easier, in that you only need to nab the first chunk of tunes on albums afflicted with this issue. This makes the situation faced by WWII, the sophomore album from Ottawa power pop/punk trio White Wires that much stranger, in that it follows a bell curve of quality over the course of 12 tracks. Since the album only clocks in at 27 minutes, this doesn’t bode well. The peaks they hit, though, are nearly stratospheric.
The opening triumvirate of “Let’s Go To The Beach,” “Roxanne,” and “Did You Forget My Name” all have serviceable hooks but suffer from a lack of energy. It seems like so many songs have been written about travelling to the beach recently, and White Wires sound almost exhausted at the prospect, along with the concepts of the two songs that follow it. The tempos drag, the vocals sound bored, and it’s ultimately a disheartening way to kick off an album.
Then, “I Can Tell” enters with Ian Hanhire’s high-pitched guitar intro, and the firm kick to the ass that this album needs is delivered. “I can tell that you want me to be your man/ I can tell that you want me to grow up fast,” goes the chorus, which Hanhire delivers with a near pitch-perfect mixture of nervy anxiety and slight frustration. “Just Wanna Be With You” flies by in less than two minutes, making each chorus and back-and-forth vocal exchange count. WWII‘s upward trajectory reaches its apex on “Hands,” with its constant rollercoaster vocal parts and general sense of urgency. It’s the type of song that makes their well-trod subject material positively gleam. Unfortunately, the other half of the bell curve kicks in, and the album skids to a halt with the somewhat unnecessary instrumental “Bye Bye Baby.”
The production here, like on most albums Dirtnap puts out, is pleasantly low-fi, offering distorted heft to Luke Martin’s bass, and a biting edge to Hanhire’s guitar and Allie Hanlon’s drums. By all means, it’s an album worth checking out for fans of the vibrant, retro-leaning punk and power-pop scene. Unfortunately, despite White Wires’ earnestness, likability, and knack for hooks, WWII is an album that is threatened to be overshadowed not just by albums from all over the musical spectrum, but also by other albums on Dirtnap itself. Compared to the finger-in-socket intensity of the Marked Men, the maddeningly satisfying Cure/Joy Division aping of the Estranged, and the off-kilter charm of the recently released Mind Spiders LP, WWII seems doomed for middle-of-the-pack status.