Given how many debuts have felt like make-or-break moments for upcoming bands in the past few years, Wallflower’s Teach Yourself To Swim doesn’t really give off that vibe. It certainly could be construed that way, as an upstart emo band that have been treading the boards and getting their name out there for a while now, but it’s not something that’s arrived with the same portentous weight that’s characterised the work of a lot of their contemporaries. It’s hard to pin down why too; their 2017 EP was definitely good, if a bit too indebted to their influences, and while they’ve not had a defining live moment yet, an impressively widespread festival presence is always good for a band their size to have. But maybe it’s that lack of a real moment that’s prevented Teach Yourself To Swim to arriving as hard as it could, as up to now, for as good as Wallflower have been, they’ve not really stood out. They aren’t among those primed for a real breakout, and even if that sort of thing is difficult to accurately predict at the best of times, the muted buzz around this album’s arrival is rather telling of how Wallflower don’t have the same sort of push or leverage to take advantage of.
That seems to have largely been translated over to Teach Yourself To Swim as well, for an album that is solid, but isn’t quite a star-making debut in the same way as plenty that have come before it. Perhaps it’s that Wallflower are still generally tied to a pretty familiar emo-grunge template, or because their hook- and melody-work isn’t quite as sticky as it could be, but this album feels like a case of all the pieces being there without finding away to arrange them in a way to stand out by a truly meaningful amount. And yet, even with that, Teach Yourself To Swim is still one of the better examples of this sound to come out this year, even if it hasn’t fully come into its own yet, and that quality is still able to be recognised regardless.
Because when viewing Wallflower in a vacuum, they’re really not bad at all. They’ve got solid instincts when it comes to a slower, more formidable sense of rumble, and when that’s this album’s primary form, being able to capture a pliability within that brings a nice sense of flow between darker, more foreboding material like Hungry Eyes, something closer to Britpop in its acoustic-driven jangle in On & On, and the midpoint between the two like Dread or Anacruisis, where melody and power look to mix more cleanly. And yet, this isn’t an album that’s too big on variety, and despite the variations that Wallflower make in their sound, there’s not a tremendous amount of differentiation between any one moment here. Standouts do occur, like Hungry Eyes’ heavier build or the creaking tension broken by a snapping backbeat on Passer-By, but generally, Teach Yourself To Swim does kind of meld into one mass in which a peak-and-trough flow is relatively minor. That does mean the opportunity to focus on atmosphere is more prevalent though, and if there’s one thing to commend this album on wholeheartedly, it’s how Wallflower can constantly maintain a sense of bleakness and creeping tension throughout, with the low-slung guitar and bass that feel like the perfect foil to Vini Moreira-Yeoell’s vocals, being able to rage when they need to but also ease back for quiet vulnerability. It’s what boosts a track like A Parody Of… to be among those standouts, and while that isn’t as consistent a factor as it could be – there’s definitely more that could be done in making a good number of these tracks hit harder – the sense of Wallflower are indeed making good moves as a genre band are not unfounded here.
That’s almost exactly as true in the writing here, in which a deficit of overtly memorable hooks or choruses feels in service of something more universally moody and atmospheric, where feelings of doubt and burden crystallise in a more widespread form with the turbulence of the world outside facilitating that. That’s all pretty par for the course when it comes to emo albums, and it can be slightly disappointing when Wallflower aren’t going beyond those means thematically in what could make for a more dynamic listen. And though a lack of dynamics is what could be almost entirely attributed to the shortcomings of this album, Wallflower aren’t being lazy or resting on their laurels. There are certainly interesting word choices that broaden the creative stakes a little bit, even if that doesn’t totally culminate in a listen that’s completely gripping or where the high points are a bit thinner on the ground. Being paired with instrumentation that could breathe and change within itself more would undoubtedly benefit this writing, and when Teach Yourself To Swim does feel a bit boxed-in on the whole, that’s definitely noticeable here.
But even with all that being said, this is still a decent debut, but one that could’ve done with a bit more time to refine it on the whole. Wallflower fit into the current scene almost perfect with their overall sound and vision, but they don’t rise above that, and theirs is the sort of profile within the upcoming rock scene that would benefit from making that effort more often. This isn’t an album that goes for broke in the way that it could, and it makes for a solid but kind of standard listen on the whole. It’s still worth giving a try though; Wallflower are really capturing a sense that they know what they’re doing within emo and alt-rock, and translating that to something that’s a bit more characteristic of them alone is what’s going to ultimately prove most fruitful for them.
For fans of: Citizen, Balance And Composure, Boston Manor
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Teach Yourself To Swim’ by Wallflower is released on 5th June.