We’ve all heard of that “quintessential summer record” at some point in our life, the album that’s vital to you enjoying your summer season. But when you live in a place where the weather is hot and dry enough to constitute it never being winter or even autumn, you can partake in these records anytime you want and they should (in theory) have the same effect. Sure, you might not be on holiday from studying, but hey, if you can grab a few friends on a free afternoon and head down to the beach, then it’s still summer, right?
The problem with most of these records (none of which are really worth namedropping; we all have our own favourites, but do a something search and you’ll find the common culprits) is too often – and most likely in a bid to appeal to the masses more – they glamourize summer. Anthems from summers past home in on the joys of getting wasted and/or laid while driving your Cadillac to the beach to once again get wasted and/or laid. There are, of course, exceptions to this, and even though La Vega’s debut album Wave has plenty of those aforementioned trademarks that make it an addictive drug to the partying masses, it comes with a hearty dose of realism.
“I actually think of Wave as being more about nostalgia for the summer than about summer itself,” multi-instrumentalist Evan Magers recently related to us here at BPM and that’s the album at its most basic. “[T]he entire album is essentially about one thing, one relationship with one very special, very complicated girl. The failure and dissolution of that relationship, more specifically,” he continued, and it’s very easy to follow this through Wave’s runtime while also being able to escape into sun-drenched imagery inspired by the duo’s (guitarist and singer Daniel Vega is the other half) sounds and words. On the brief instrumental title track, it’s easy to picture feet up on the car dashboard as the couple drive home against the sun setting in a cloudless sky. Opening track “Do The Surfer Girl Limbo!” has all the trademarks of the B-52’s track (spiky riffs, shout-along choruses) mixed with a tinge of fuzziness which, again, one can put to the scene of a beach party happening during a summer day past. The first half of Wave is the good times in the aforementioned relationship, and it just so happens that it was set to the backdrop of a joyful sunny season.
The other tracks which make up this more upbeat time impress on various scales: “Key West” is compacted surf-rock that recalls the original Sonic the Hedgehog-evoking “Snare Hanger” by Battles that brings more than enough hooks to make sure you’ll find something to latch onto; the carefree swagger of “Love Ya Self” and the tight little punch of “Shade” channel the Beach Boys through a memory that’s had the influences of decades more of music; and “Where You Normally Go” is even more brief, but takes the title of one of the most lo-fi and bombastic things here. Magers and Vega have a likeable personalities that are well captured here, which helps sell the content on Wave. They’re having a good time, but it doesn’t feel exclusive. Rather, their enthusiasm feels the result of you partaking in in the fun too.
That said, Wave hits its stride when it reaches its second half and the duo dial things back and begin the lamenting. Album highlight “Exit Tax” captures the breakup feud of couple arguing in public, throwing possessions out of windows. “Take my record collection/ I don’t want to listen to any of those songs/ They all remind me of you” Magers sings, raising his voice against the backdrop of a blues-dressed rock ‘n’ roll number. The squabbling continues in “Radio Free” as the couple keep trying to talk over each other as the slide guitar that cropped on “Wave” returns to add to the dynamic, blossoming backdrop that sounds like a memory drifting away from your consciousness.
As well as Magers captures the break up in his lyrics, it’s his ability to take himself out of the limelight that helps make it sound he’s learnt something from the whole experience. On “Love Ya Self” he indulges his narcissism, pondering “Do you love yourself that much / You’re driving down the road and you’re not looking back…You ain’t getting younger/ But there’s advantages to that” with cheeky off the cuff melodies mirroring the guitar riffs. He acts the shitty boyfriend on “Minor Nightmares” when his other half is looking for comfort in the middle of the night. “Describing minor nightmares/ Well nobody cares/ Why would anybody care,” he sings dreamily, like’s in on the joke, if not the nightmare itself. And “You Had To Be There” and “Where You Normally Go” present the relationship as something normal and everyday, which is refreshing. “I wanna take you where you normally go…Not planning anything special…I just want to see the way/ You spend your time on a normal day,” goes the content of the latter of those tracks, and it’s charming for the way it doesn’t try paint a picture with silver screen bullshit.
As impressive as Wave is for a debut, if not just for a record that captures nostalgia and the ins and outs of relationship, it’s not without its faults. The record itself requires you indulges Magers and Vega as they go on their journey though memory, and subsequently, the whole thing is easier to imagine having a more lasting effect if it was snappier and had a few of the weaker tracks on each side of the album cut out. But as far as summer records go, it’s up there for the fact it presents itself as something that’s not just a concept created by Hollywood. Summer is a human experience, not just full of feverish memories of lust and love, but also of arguments, loneliness, longing for reconciliation, and material sacrifice. La Vega capture that on Wave, and for that, they’ve got to be praised. Summer doesn’t often sound this fun and honest at the same time.