Arty R&B group Wet recalibrate on second LP
There is a certain kind of rosy romanticism in tragedy, a byproduct of living.
“In the music business, no one in this world gives a shit about your fucking song. No one cares about your career. You’re one in a million to them. That’s true about our managers, the label, every producer I’ve ever worked with,” Kelly Zutrau, who fronts R&B pop band Wet, speaks big truths in this Fader interview. Following so much upheaval with the band’s previous manifestation, a trio that included her, continuing member Joe Valle and the now-departed Marty Sulkow, and her personal life (Valle and Zutrau soon ended their relationship), she needed a complete reset.
So, she flew off to Los Angeles for three months and holed up in the guest house behind collaborator and Still Run co-producer Rostam Batmanglij’s house. That hideaway renewed her spirit, properly bestowing her with sharpened clarity. Stillness became a conduit for her to regain a part of herself that she thought she’d lost — and Still Run was born. With Valle taking on a more supporting role, flexing his producer muscles across most of the album’s sinewy build, Zutrau strapped herself with more organic productions and stepped into the spotlight, perhaps for the first time in Wet history.
She seeks renewal through well-crafted indie-rock, textured to the taste, and apt to soothe the tremendous weight of the unknown and the crushing blows of life. Zutrau wields fervent emotional weight as a gateway drug to higher understanding of the human condition. The title song (featuring Starchild and the New Romantic) hits the ignition instantly, setting the languid and delicate and generally raw scope of the following nine songs. “I don’t know what this life holds / But I’ve always felt the same / I wanna go where the sun is shining and no one knows my name,” she sings, bending folk into her burgeoning repertoire of stylistic touchpoints. Her voice is much the same here as it was back in 2016 for the band’s debut, Don’t You; although, you can certainly argue she employs it with much more gutting precision and allows the melodies to breathe and swell to fill the earth’s atmosphere.
“There’s a Reason,” escaping between modulating percussion, reassesses a former lover whose flame beckons her back once again. “It’s nobody’s business / Who cares if anyone listens? / Now there’s a madness to this / And it’s getting to us,” she remembers. Family and friends warned her of the trouble brewing below the surface. But she didn’t listen. And now that her heart is finally mended, she recalls the signs she should have seen and wonders what kind of hold he must have on her.
“You’re Not Wrong” uncurls funk guitars, sticky groove and an aching pleasure to completely start a new life. “You wanna start right away / Said a new day’s begun / It’s not as easy for me / To just get along / Is something getting to you? / Someone else’s arms / Got into the evening / It’s all over grown,” she sings, wrestling with another’s yearning to let go and her misguided attempts to hold on tighter. Then, “Lately” swoops in with eloquent, muted and icy frustration. Uneasy about releasing the song–which she believes “felt kind of petty and a little specific”– Zutrau sheds the crumbling exterior and exposes her exact issues with the band in their earlier days, including Valle, who did approve of the song’s brutal honesty. “And you never like how my song sounds, but you give nothing of yourself / And you look at me like something’s wrong if I ever ask for help,” she hisses between creamy layers of guitar and percussion.
Along with musician Daniel Aged slathering on pedal steel and bass, the album is thick and lush but never sacrificial for the truly visceral. That’s where “Softens,” the crown jewel, comes in with its stunning hook: “Where beauty softens grief / You’ll go so low you’re beneath yourself / Where beauty softens grief / You’ll go so low you’re beneath the ground / You used to walk on me.” The flowing ballad centers firmly in personal experiences but was inspired from a Harlem funeral parlor’s slogan, which seemed to be just as fitting for the world’s current state, too. In a press statement, she explains, “I was just feeling like shit and listening to the radio one night while all of these horrible news stories were playing and then I heard this phrase ‘Where Beauty Softens Your Grief.’ Something about those words and the story behind it really stuck with me. I found that idea so comforting, someone making a place to soften the sometimes harsh reality of being a human.”
Wet’s Still Run operates in much the same way. Zutrau utilizes her pain to medicate our own. “Out of Tune” addles across the dirt as she imagines a world without her lover (“Don’t let this sun go down / I don’t wanna be alone in this house”); meanwhile, she paces back ‘n forth, wringing her hands, to the burning twilight of dawn with “11 Hours.”
To bookend a record that will very likely will be the among the year’s most vital pop releases, “Love is Not Enough” reads as both a recount of a decaying relationship and a blood-soaked retelling of today’s brutality. The imagery is painted with misery and resignation, her voice puffing up in gusts. “Call your sisters and your little cousins / And hide the kids they’re laying out on the corner / And they come runnin’ and it’s all in fun, until / All their wounds, they’re gone, and you’re left with memories,” she mourns.
And with a somber flourish, Wet leaves you questioning the very nature of your reality, for better or worse.