Release Date: Oct 2, 2012
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
In the moment of hesitation between the opening chord and the entrance of the entire ensemble lies the enigmatic quality that drives California Wives’ debut album Art History, an album that continually surprises and refreshes its listeners with a soothing juxtaposition of steady rock anthems and new wave electronic vibes. The sound of the album should come as no surprise, with every member of the Chicago-based quartet citing both alternative rock and electronic bands as influences heavily contributing to the creation of their own music. However, while California Wives are quick to point out what brought them all together, a honed focus on quality songwriting is what drives them forward.
Not that they're actually from said state, of course, but California Wives are very much the descendants of a certain kind of Chicago band, namely the new wave/post-punk/shoegaze worshipers that summed up everything that wasn't metal and classic rock about the Smashing Pumpkins, in this case to their huge credit; Art History is the kind of derivative debut album that's a treat worth enjoying rather than a tedious collection of spot-the-influences. If anything, the quartet at points calls to mind the pioneering Midwesterners For Against when it comes to going big and bold, with "Los Angeles" -- not an X cover -- being a prime example, and "Tokyo" and the slow and stately "The New Process" not far behind. Like For Against, California Wives also find beauty in a particular kind of restraint that derives from mid-'80s New Order if anything, making songs like "Blood Red Youth" and the chiming skip of "Purple" also worth treasuring.
California Wives came together in Chicago four years ago as a band consisting of Dan Zima, Hans Michel, Joe O’Connor and Jayson Kramer. In the intervening years they played extensively around the city, toured a little and recorded an EP before signing to Vagrant Records. Now, nearly a full election cycle later, we have their full-length debut, the ambitiously titled Art History.
Art History is an excellent title for an album. I saw the title and immediately got excited: something about it implies an academic seriousness, one that can either be enhanced or ironically mocked by the music it represents. I pictured orchestral flair and nerdy verses, songs that strove to be interesting. But California Wives’ music has nothing to do with the title Art History.
California Wives think big. That’s not to say that their debut LP, Art History, operates under some overzealous concept or employs 200 musicians. The four members of the Chicago band are definitive in their style, meshing atmospheric textures with stadium rock guitar parts — a New Wave-inspired outfit who knows that they are just that, and they intend to make the most out of it.