In a year where great post-punk has been comparatively thin on the ground compared to other years, the arrival of The Wants feels like a huge relief. They’re far from the purest band that the genre has to offer, but they represent a forward movement that post-punk has rarely associated itself with through zeroing in on an inherent catchiness that the inclusion of synthpop, indie-pop and electronic touches can bring. It’s an curious concept on paper, particularly with Bodega bassist Heather Elle among their ranks in a move that opens up some more interesting musical possibilities for her, but not one without merit whatsoever; if anything, post-punk’s rapid lateral movement into the indie-rock space that’s been ongoing for years and is arguably its most fleshed-out now has only widened the goalposts for what can actually be achieved with that mentality. It’s something that there’s certainly precedence to explore on Container, topped off by a tight runtime that lends immediate credence to The Wants’ pop focus forwarding the sense of directness that post-punk has done really well in cultivating.
Really though, to put too much emphasis on pop within The Wants’ sound would be more misleading than initial perceived. More accurately, Container owes a lot more to krautrock and minimalist techno in its incredibly tight construction and applications of ambient noise, and for as alienating as that can potentially be (and that is still a factor here), Container is still able to withhold a core of real propulsiveness and intrigue. This isn’t so much a sonically dense album as it is efficient in its layering, with the economical construction to do everything it needs to without wasting too much time, and for as little room as that leaves for The Wants to really expand their arsenal, Container’s very targeted hit lands with impressive accuracy.
That says a lot when this is an album that still has its fair share of abstract, semi-incongruous interludes that usually serve as little more than perfunctory space-filler, but that’s only partly true here. The creaking noise and soft tap of outro Voltage doesn’t need to be here, but with the others, there’s at least some tangible creative angle that can be gleaned from them, like the slightly industrial crunch against the quick-paced guitar and synths on Ramp, or even more relevantly the warped layers that coat the sleek bass groove of Waiting Room that’s probably the clearest dilution of what Container does best. For as important as the bass regularly is in post-punk, there’s a litheness to Elle’s work here that brings to mind so many different touchstones, but always serves as a fantastic grounding force. There are varying shades of Talking Heads or Devo on the likes of the title track or Ape Trap (or, on The Motor, what kind of feels like a post-punk take on Yello’s The Race), and that’s because the basslines are given pride of place with the tight percussion and slate-grey guitars typical of post-punk filling it out. Admittedly they aren’t quite as inspired or proficient, and it really is a case of the synths and overall vibe of tightness putting in more work than most individual elements, but the use of deliberate minimalism and Madison Velding-VanDam’s enigmatically understated vocals propels the feeling of avant-garde in a way that makes it The Wants’ most successful tool, and that’s a pretty consistent factor across Container.
It also puts something of an emphasis on what’s being said here as well, though that’s more in the thematic and framing sense than a lot of the actual language. That’s not to say that those moments aren’t there, like how much the idea of men suppressing their emotions to maintain a veneer of stoicism is still promoted on Fear My Society, but it all feeds into Container’s central narrative of a society in which feeling boxed-in and trapped has become the norm. That’s rather well exemplified on the title track and Ape Trap in their sense of sterile claustrophobia (something that the narrowness in sound of this album perpetuates extremely well), and when it comes to the desperation at facing such an insurmountable force without the means to take it on on Hydra, the thematic pool is deepened yet again. What might seem rather simplistic on the surface does a great deal with what’s packed inside it, giving Container something of a weight without it ever feel unwieldy or overwrought. Perhaps a bit more examination wouldn’t go amiss, especially when the purpose of the numerous interludes representing liminality in such a society isn’t a well-realised as everything else here, but that’s generally a minor complaint when The Wants use their relatively scant time and resources so well.
It’s certainly not for everyone, such is the nature of post-punk as an entire genre, but the comparative simplicity in how The Wants break everything down to their most fundamental parts and run with it does have wider-ranging potential that so many have sought. There’s an inherent catchiness that’s always good to have, and even if that’s more concentrated in certain moments and areas than others, there’s a lot of intrigue within Container regardless, if only to see how such a tight confluence of sounds can work so generally well. And that’s definitely the case here; for as small-scale as it is, The Wants produce the sort of sound that’s hard to forget, with the desire to dig deeper and explore more constantly coming back despite its shortcomings. That’s the sign of a band with a lot to offer, and Container feels like some pretty conclusive evidence of exactly that going forward.
For fans of: Talking Heads, Devo, Automatic
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Container’ by The Wants is released on 13th March on Council Records.