Album Of The Week: Microwave Let’s Start Degeneracy

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Album Of The Week: Microwave Let’s Start Degeneracy


Dumpster-diving by a Dunkin’ Donuts. Spraying insecticide in closets to get rid of roaches. Walking seven miles with friends after getting too high to drive, only to realize you forgot your wallet. Pissing off of a porch. Going 65 in a 25. Trading a hat for a pack of Newports. Wedging a hanger into a car window to unlock it. For over a decade, Atlanta’s Microwave have masterfully captured self-destruction in the South, painting vivid scenes of desperation, slick with sweat and spilled beer, set to a concoction of acerbic pop-punk and razor-sharp emo. Their debut full-length, 2014’s Stovall, and its follow-up, 2016’s Much Love, are powerful bursts of summery rock, while 2019’s Death Is A Warm Blanket was heavy with grungy darkness. Now, they’re back with Let’s Start Degeneracy, an album about enlightenment.

Whereas Death Is A Warm Blanket shoots downward into the depths of hell, LSD ascends toward the heavens. Instead of blaring with caustic guitars, these songs float with a newfound sense of tranquility. “Omni” is a dream-pop delight, reminiscent of beachy bands like Beach Fossils or Wild Nothings, though it culminates into a raucous catharsis at the end, still ringing with their signature touch. LSD was (quite obviously) largely inspired by drugs; vocalist and guitarist Nathan Hardy and drummer Timothy “Tito” Pittard experimented with ayahuasca in Peru (the band is rounded out by bassist Tyler Hill; perhaps he was too busy to partake in the adventure). “It’s about letting go of attachments and behaviors that aren’t serving you, and trying to shake off your programming and not be motivated by fear and guilt and shame,” Hardy said about the album. “It’s about learning to be happy and take care of yourself.”

Up until now, Microwave have been a vessel for hedonism and nihilism. On “Whimper” from Much Love, Hardy recounts a bruise-covered rendezvous with someone in a relationship; on “DIAWB” from Death Is A Warm Blanket, Hardy waits in line to sell his soul and ends the post-hardcore eruption with the plea: “I don’t want to feel.” It’s ironic that this album is entitled Let’s Start Degeneracy; this is the turning point where they’ve finally decided to get their shit together. It is, however, similar to Death Is A Warm Blanket in its disinterest in rules. LSD moves how it pleases, sometimes having the texture of a sonic collage. It’s not until the crescendo of the third song, “Circling The Drain,” that the music picks up its pace, and they’re not afraid to have slow moments scattered throughout the album. “Concertito” is a voyeuristic piano ballad lasting a little over a minute, the keys playing over what sounds like a recording of someone singing candidly in the shower. R&B-tinged closer “Huperzine Dreams” has the quiet romance of a Frank Ocean tune. On the song, Hardy muses, “What if everything’s as perfect as we suspected it would be/ What if we dropped the catastrophic fatalist philosophy?”

It’s almost an extension to the catchy single “Bored Of Being Sad,” which explodes with the bombastic pop-punk Microwave are known for. They’ve always been too clever and self-aware to be lumped in with their peers in the genre, and “Bored Of Being Sad” is proof: “And I’m so bored of being sad/ It’s not cool anymore/ It’s old and I’m bored/ Shit’s really not so bad/ I created this hell/ I have no one to blame but myself,” Hardy sings, a refreshing revelation. On the acoustic daydream “Straw Hat,” Hardy lulls, “I pity every asshole now/ If you treat people like that/ I know that’s how you treat yourself.”

These wisdoms are peppered throughout LSD; it’s evidence that this pivot into liberated, uplifting territory is sincere and earned. It’s beautiful to witness a sense of peace from a band that once screamed: “‘Cause I’m far too cynical for faith and make-believe/ ‘Cause there’s no such thing as love/ We just felt vulnerable without a God, without a crutch/ There’s nowhere else, nobody else, nothing!” They’ve recognized that being cynical is, in itself, a crutch like everything else, and there are more meaningful, productive ways to cope with the aimlessness of life. This realization makes the arc of their discography incredibly moving.

The album opens with a rendition of the traditional Christian hymn “Softly And Tenderly Jesus Is Calling,” on which Hardy’s girlfriend Blaire Robinson sings, “Come home, come home/ You who are weary come home/ Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling/ Calling, O sinner, come home!” It’s as if LSD is Microwave coming home after a long bender. They’ll still fuck up here and there, but they know that self-annihilation isn’t the answer. Eventually you realize your pursuit to punish yourself in an attempt to achieve redemption is a suicide mission. Religious trauma has always been an integral piece of Microwave’s music; when the band formed, Hardy had recently left the Mormon Church. Putting their own twist on a traditional Christian hymn feels like reclamation, acceptance, healing. Religious themes return in “Omni,” but they don’t weigh it down. He ends the groovy excursion with the staggering question: “What’s it like to be a martyr?/ Or is it God you blame?/ Are you looking for a new god/ Or do you learn from your mistakes?”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Microwave are cured. The troubles are still present and illustrated as astutely as ever: “In a fiberglass Ferrari, fueled by the pure hatred of joy/ I’ve been out blurring the line between freelance and unemployed,” Hardy intones on the gauzy “Ferrari.” On the brooding “Circling The Drain,” he mutters, “I’ve been getting my ass kicked/ But I’m playing to lose,” before later proclaiming, “No one can give you peace/ No one can take it away.” LSD portrays how the path to getting better is still littered with the bad habits of the past.

The album is also just an all-around great time. “LSD” is a woozy tryst: “Laying on the carpet barely tethered to the ground/ Shut the door and turn the lights out/ Crank the shit up to 10/ Say fuck you to your friends/ I want to wrap around and break you like a glowstick,” Hardy mumbles, amongst lines of mixing Styrofoam and gasoline to create homemade napalm, and singing of “a fleeting moment of clarity at the end of a dead end street.” It’s a weird, magical song, proving the old Microwave antics are here to stay.

LSD recognizes that everything’s ephemeral, and for once Microwave don’t have to fight it. They bask in what they have now, and they’re grateful. The result is an album that doesn’t waste any time; every word and every instrumental is worthwhile. We should be grateful, too.

Let’s Start Degeneracy is out 4/26 on Pure Noise.

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