In 2008, two friends from El Paso, Texas embarked on a twelve-hour drive to Santa Monica, California to catch My Bloody Valentine on their mbv tour. The duo—Kyle Hager and Julian Ruiz—would go on to Austin from there, making an official move to what's arguably the music capital of the country. By 2011, with a couple of other additions, they had formed Holy Wave and released their first LP, Knife Hits. The road trip, though it may seem an inconsequential story, lends pretty key context to the band's specific sound: shoegazey surf-psych.
If it sounds like a messy kind of sub-sub-genre, their newest album, Freaks of Nurture, will quell those worries. Five years have given the band enough time to distill their modus operandi, and their third studio album is undoubtedly their strongest release yet. Perhaps it’s the product of extensive touring all around the states and overseas, or perhaps it’s something to do with filling out their lineup a little more—Joey Cook, Dustin Zozaya, and Ryan Fuson make up the rest of the five-piece. Whatever it was, the ten tracks present on Nurture are rather starkly more sophisticated and accessible than the songs found on their last full-length, Relax.
The band have always leaned pretty far into psych rock in the past, mixing the appropriate amount of organ into their sea of reverb, but on Nurture they’re offering a heavier dose of concise pop. On “Wendy Go Round,” they channel the insouciant but catchy dreaminess of The Kinks, while on “You Should Lie” they kick the tempo up and come out sounding more like Wavves. And though the band have previously been labeled a “garage” act, it’s clear they’re aiming for a more refined sound this time around. Take, for example, the track “Our Pigs,” which went from a scratchy, punky demo first heard on last year’s EP The Evil Has Landed Part II, to a much floatier psych track with guitars toned down and bass punched up.
Where vocals are involved, they nearly always follow the far-away, reverb-heavy pattern we typically associate with shoegaze, and the band show off their ability to fully embrace the hazy wall-of-sound approach on the centerpiece track “California Took My Bobby Away,” though it’s more Slowdive than My Bloody Valentine. A little further down the tracklist, “Sir Isaac Nukem” makes for another real highlight and is a deft combination of all of the band’s strengths, with its earworm of a melody, washed out vocals, and intermittent instrumental jamming.
Though it’s by no means a marked change from Holy Wave’s previous releases, Freaks of Nurture certainly showcases a conscious effort at evolution, and it does so rather beautifully. Though shoegaze, surf rock, psych rock, and punk rock all make appearances, the tracks manage to be nuanced and, through and through, just plain enjoyable.