If I could be stronger
And if you were just older
We might last this out longer
But the task just gets harder
And my face turned to red
From drinking all that dead water
And then again when you said
That I was my mother’s daughter
I had a creative writer professor in college who once told me that I only ever wrote about New England—no matter the subject, the character, the narrative thrust; it was implied, she explained, this imbued sense of place, a mentality. She meant it as a compliment and I took it that way because I was 19 years old and far from home and it felt grounding—proof that there was something sturdy about me, a familial line, something so subtle I didn’t realize it was there. It was recognition from one misplaced New Englander to another signaling to a shared experience, a tethering that kept me from floating off into space.
Wet is band made up of similarly misplaced New Englanders. Kelly Zutrau, Marty Sulkow, and Joe Valle grew up as strangers in different parts of Massachusetts before meeting in New York, where college, happenstance, and East Village apartment parties brought them together. The Massachusetts upbringing would be nothing more than a hyper-local bragging right if not for the fact that the three returned to the Commonwealth to write and record much of Don’t You, their debut album. Life in New York was wearing thin, Zutrau explained, so they retreated to Western Mass—Hadley, to be specific, where she went to summer camp as a kid—to expand upon the demos that first garnered them major label attention a few years ago. A woodsy little creative haven, the western part of Massachusetts has a particular sort of WASPy earthiness; it’s quieter, more spacious, ripe for writing workshops, pottery throwing and, clearly, song-making. But still, there is an instilled thread of Puritanism that we never really got around to abolishing: a penchant for reliable outerwear and thermostats set low, an unshakable suspicion of those who over-gush or over-share, a certain kind of reservedness that’s sometimes mistaken for stoicism for coldness. No matter how far you end up, the mentality burrows deep within you, it whispers, it pulls.
Which is to say, Don’t You feels like going home. Or, rather, it feels like moving away and it feels like needing to come back.
At face value, Wet appears very of-the-moment: a lithe girl in front of some dudes standing at keyboards tapping at a drum pads, the group of them making swirly dream-pop with a sturdy backbeat. And yet, there’s something novel about their rendition, something inherently Massachusetts. The production is unfussy, lacking the gratuitous flourish that tend to muddy the sort of alt-R&B to which Wet is often compared. Instead, Sulkow and Valle build sparseness into the sound, crafting a patchwork of meticulous beats and electronic drips, filling in a lush sonic backdrop that ebbs and flows. Zutrau’s voice is small but piercing, straightforward in a way that lends a detached honesty to the insecurity, the self-flagellation of her lyrics. The emotion is laid bare, but never belabored, visceral in its vagueries. The gloomy synths pulse, they breathe and undulate, letting words open up into echo, so each song feels like a cry carrying out through the night fog.
The album opens with “It’s All In Vain”—a call for communication that laments its own emptiness: I don’t believe you when you say and you won’t hear me when I’m telling you. Physical proximity, the existence of a relationship, doesn’t guarantee other forms of closeness. It does not promise love or honesty. (It’s a recurring theme, “All I know is / When you hold me / I still feel lonely,” she sings elsewhere.) But language is rarely more effective. When you’re holding on to something that’s ending, when all the words being said suddenly sound suspect, you seek something tangible that might back them up. “When you say you love me, baby / Let me see your face.” The body, however near, cannot hide its emotional distance—it gives you away, harbors emotional wreckage and makes it visible. “No one said it would be easy / But I never knew I’d be so lonely,” she sings over the layered strings of “Body,” building along a handclap beat that snaps shut, pounding. “Now I have you here to hold me / Make me forget I have a body,” make me forget that I’m a real physical thing, make me forget that I’m real. Zutrau mediates the foggy swirl of her anxieties with their physical heft: make me forget the ways that loneliness grips and tires, the ways it manifests in my muscles, even when you’re near.
Formidable in its simplicity, ”Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl” is a high point of the album. It builds itself on incandescence; a glimmering synth radiating beneath each layer: the thrumming guitar, Zutrau’s crystalline voice. Beginning with a smudged static glow that swells almost ambient, the song doesn’t quite build as much as it treads, oscillates and bobs along to a protracted rhythm—like a fog horn sounding way off in the distance like the romantic pull of windswept hair like your blood all of a sudden rushing to your head. Plucked strings come in to ground the sweeping blur as the sound of Zutrau’s voice creeps in from faraway, a voice repeated but processed to the point of obscurity, coming closer and closer until you can just barely make it out. It’s just not right it’s just not right until all of a sudden the synth’s pulled quiet, resonating like a spotlight as she sings, crystal clear and sure: I don’t wanna be your girl no more. Then pause, as if the whole song breathes when she does. “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl” is a resignation rather than a denouncement: it’s not that I’ve stopped loving you, just that I can’t do this anymore. It’s not simply knowing that the relationship has gone wrong, but that you have. It’s realizing that whatever this is, it isn’t good for you. You’re no longer existing in the way you want, and you have to do something about it, cut the ties of definition. You can’t do me right / So I decide that / I don’t wanna be your girl no more. The song affirms itself, over and over, like practicing a break-up speech, as if saying the words out loud might grant strength, as if repetition might make you bolder.
Amongst the steady flow of mid-tempo gloom, “All of the Ways” is an up-tempo reprieve in sound alone: a pop song deeply rooted in pessimism, in planning for the end no matter the present. “I know it’s so unfair to you / I can’t forget what I’ve been through.” Because sometimes love does not override pain, sometimes there are many ways in which the two can be felt simultaneously. And “All the Ways” is about not knowing how to reckon with that past, to rectify or accept, how to divvy up your truth your feelings into bite-sized revelations, how to order them in a way that someone else could absorb, those little accumulations that build towards a more honest knowing. “I feel myself closing up / They’re haunting me they keep me down / I brace myself another round / No you’re not the same as them / But I can’t let you in.” It’s the way that past interferes with the present, as you reckon with emotions you’ve have trained yourself so carefully to swallow whole, bury down deep—the messy undoing of habit, coming to a breaking point and needing to purge yourself of the anguish. “I don’t ever wanna leave you / I never wanna be alone again” like frantic messages sent late at night from under the covers, when you can’t bear to hold onto the words any longer. Except unpracticed release can be unruly, the outpouring unrefined; throughout the album she offers forth a dizzying web of wants and desires, both congruent and at odds—asking for love plainly then hurriedly pushing it away, mourning over loss experienced and loss anticipated, no matter. “But every time I see you / I think of all the ways that this could end.” It’s cynical, but not in the wry sense of the word; it is melancholic. It aches.
The album closes with a hypnotizing epic that resounds, bells tolling; “These Days” signals to a meaningful end, to a fracture that dislodges. The words overwhelmed, voice small: “today I scare so easily,” she drawls in the chorus— like accidental mantras running through my mind when I’m too anxious to think clearly, when I can’t shake the feeling that I need to fold into myself. “These days I can’t take too much / I’ve been falling down, falling down.” It’s a particular kind of anxiety, a version of grief that makes me want to tuck my body away, enfold into my own body arms pulled tight, make myself as small as I can be so that maybe I might disappear, maybe I might collapse my bones hide away somewhere small and dark somewhere no one could find me. A particular kind of pain like the shift from “And I know we can make it / through everything / you are all I need” to “Today, you don’t know me, you said.” The song fades away with rolling piano chords, a voice far off and cloudy. “Today I am away from you / Today I passed strangely / Today you don’t know,” like a fugue, like going through the motions like floating through the day. Like knowing it’s time to take flight—shake yourself from the heady daze, flee the frazzled plea of the city and seek refuge in the calm of a new environment, something different, more familiar.
On the day Don’t You came out, I had the chance to see Wet play in person—a few songs in front of a small crowd, right before a sold-out show. With a strong jaw and little to no make-up, Zutrau has a delicate sort of tomboyishness that reminds me of girls I went to highschool with—older girls, my sister’s age, lacrosse players and Latin scholars who walked through the dining hall in ratty sweatshirts, with just showered hair pooling on the shoulders. She was tentative, a little self-conscious, wholly unconcerned with her own ethereality. She sang each song to the rafters, her body back-lit, her stance reserved, holding the mic with two hands out in front of her face like prayer. Their short set ended with “Weak”—a love song that rises out of the album’s anguish just as much as it’s steeped in it. “These visions haunting me / Get me out of my head / You get me out of my mind / You get me out of my dreams.” The sound mesmerized, billowing, as Zutrau pleaded and bargained: oh baby please don’t leave me you are all I ever need repeated over and over until her voice grew wider as if she was building up strength finding new footing, as if she had made her case and accepted the unknowing.
At its very core, Don’t You succeeds in setting forth eleven versions of the same sadness, each song harboring its own distinct tenor even as they blend seamlessly into one another. It’s a study of melancholy from every angle, broken bits filtered through the same gauzy malaise, sparkling like a heartbroken kaleidoscope. Because despite all of the hand-wringing, Don’t You is hopeful. The loneliness is suffusive, but it’s the sense of longing that truly pervades. Longing not for a specific person necessarily, not for love or happiness, but rather something that feels more like solace. It’s an album of convalescence. In giving words to all the ways frustration can sting, a throbbing sound to the ways endings can wound, Wet reveals the very outer edges of pain and points beyond it. What lingers is the idea that, out there somewhere, something really good for you still remains, when you’re ready.
Shaky when I came to be
When they left, they left me in pieces
Shaky, but I believe
There are better things for me
Gretchen Kast has spent most of her life floating between Massachusetts and Maine, overanalyzing her dreams and pretending to be in a girl band. She now lives in Brooklyn and still spends most of her time overanalyzing her dreams, though she has learned to transfer her girl band aspirations into writing. You can find her on Tumblr and Twitter.