Sometimes the sad love songs you listen to are not about the type of love you think they are. Sometimes they aren’t even romantic, though they may be rather striking. Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow — the trio who make up Wet — seem to be early-rising experts at crafting songs that ooze distilled electronic sounds and R&B patterns, gliding along Zutrau’s whimsical voice singing highly realistic and exhausted lyrics to create an enrapturing soundscape. The band’s debut album, Don’t You, is the band’s first release since their 2013 self-titled EP. I started listening to the new album for background music and soon found myself unable to focus on what I was doing because I was so wrapped up in what I was hearing. The world is not exactly suffering a shortage of sad indie-esque songs and, even though I’d heard their EP and knew they were a force to be reckoned with, I hadn’t realized how well this album would sink its teeth into me — maybe my upcoming five-month trip out of the country and away from everyone makes a good foundation for it, but I seriously doubt that’s the only reason.
Don’t You is nothing if not lovely. It goes beyond Wet’s earlier EP to create a more expansive and nuanced collection of songs. It is lovely in a truly dark kind of way, however. There is no arguing against Zutrau’s way of lulling you in with the sweet qualities of her voice, and by the time you’ve started to pay attention to what she’s saying, you’re too cushioned in by Valle and Sulkow’s gentle instrumental webbing to extract yourself from what you’re hearing. The opening track of the album, “It’s all in Vain,” takes your hand rather gently as Zutrau requests, “Tell me baby tell me slowly/all the things you couldn’t show me/tell me one more time before I leave,” bounded by the distant hum of a synth waiting for the introduction to end so it can roll into a heady and airy beat.
“Now I see you hardly know me/I learned your way I learn so slowly” she calls out, following up by practically blurting out, “you don’t hear me when I/tell you that it’s all or nothing/all or nothing baby please/let me go.” The lyrics sound worn-down and all emotions seem to have been washed out by the fatigue of sustaining themselves. If there was a romance behind the story, it seems lost in the sense of acquiescence to failure sitting behind each song, although there’s nothing juvenile or whining about any of the pieces. Don’t You makes you ache, sure, but it also has a rather beautiful air of understanding and maturity about it. The lyrics are so wretched because they hold a truth behind them — a very difficult and articulate truth. The expertly gauged instrumentals have a minimalist quality that goes past the often supportive nature of other instruments to augment and elevate the mood to some greater lucidity. Wet has a simple and honest way of demonstrating how loneliness can burrow so deeply inside a relationship and become the only shared experience that remains.
And Zutrau isn’t shy about displaying this sense of loneliness in understated and bare lyrics.“It’s all in Vain,” sets up an image of sitting across from someone in a room and having the sinking feeling that neither of you are actually there with each other, that there’s no real sense of comradery or connection. There is no image of a love-struck kid willing to swallow whatever their partner tells them here, just a guileless and nonjudgmental denial of the situation’s permanence. “I won’t hide the ways I’ve tried/it’s just not right it’s killing me tonight,” Zutrau cries in a slight crescendo on “Don’t Wanna Be Your Love” as the music follows her into a vast clearing of sound that leaves you breathless in the sense of resignation. Even in the slightly more pop-esque songs on the album like “Weak,” there is still the undercurrent of desperation and a heavy knowledge that whatever battle is being fought, it was already over before the lyrics were dreamt up.
Zutrau actually embeds a good number of these piercing questions and requests throughout the album. “Small and Silver” weaves a circle of her desires and the pain of longing for unachieveable things; the spiral of the chorus into echoes of “leave me desperate/leave me breathless, oh/leave me helpless, oh/leave me desperate/leave me, leave me” is just trail after trail of possibilities which feel like they won’t even be pursued. The result is that the entire album, rather than seeming to arrive at any kind of a destination, is instead trapped in some subdued and self-aware limbo.
A different album — and perhaps a kinder one to the psyche of anyone listening to it — would try to end with some island of hope in the album, some kind of reassurance that the loneliness has both high and low tides, that sometimes these feelings of transience are really just happily misplaced intuitions. “These Days” is the final track, and it closes out with another question of identity: “today you don’t know me, you said/today I scare so easily/today I am away from you/today I passed strangely/today you don’t know…” It seems this album is not so kind as could have been hoped, but at the very least it’s exceptionally astute and honest, and there is a kind of island of comfort in knowing that someone can create so much beauty and so much strength out of so little hope.
Jessie Weber is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].