As I stare down my mid-twenties, I see the rest of my life hurtling toward me at full speed like a freight train with the brake lines cut. I feel my experience is nothing short of ubiquitous among those of my age group. Each of us may be staring down different issues: a full-time job that is perhaps not an actual career, mounting student loan debt, relationship troubles, and more. That uncertainty seems to linger there, just under the surface, at all hours of the day. These are the mounting insecurities and anxieties and, let’s face it, sometimes depression, that come with a perceived lack of direction in life.
We are all searching for someone who is trying to find that same meaning. It’s no surprise then, that the music we love often reflects back these same uncertainties, the same occasional short-lived self-loathing, and the probing existentialism of everyday life. And no record this year has struck that particular nerve for me in quite the way that Microwave’s Much Love has.
Much Love is Microwave at their least filtered, their most lovably crass (“I’m the nemesis of fun with soggy hot dog buns from spilling warm beer in my trunk”) and, perhaps most importantly, their most nihilistic. Lyrically, it’s about those moments which so often follow late night soul-searching worrying sessions, when you just decide that life is too short to worry and follow your bliss, no matter how disastrous the night gets.
It dissects moments like this on the Pinegrove-esque “Dull,” where vocalist Nathan Hardy extols the virtues (or lack thereof) of a late-night booty call: “It makes me sick inside, to be calling you up this late at night, but that’s what I do.” It’s only after the fact that we realize how empty these interactions become (“Now the silence is cold and every time we talk it’s dull and awkward”). Similarly, the mid-tempo “Neighbors” kicks off as something of a nod to the doo-wop era, and develops into a rollicking weekend anthem, complete with a sing-along about being too messed up to walk all the way back to your parked car.
Hardy’s best moments lyrically come on “Drown,” a song about becoming attached to someone failing to be a better person, so you can feel better about your own insecurities by comparison. It’s these warring emotions of regret and self-esteem that form the final conflicting lines of the song: “I hate to be around you, I hope that you’ll stay.”
But for me, the most relatable thing about Much Love is its perspective on spirituality. You see, Much Love comes from a place of religious upheaval. Hardy’s departure from his childhood upbringing in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints colors the perspective of the record, leading to moments of anguished antipathy, like the closing moments of “Vomit,” where Hardy howls, “We just felt vulnerable without a God, without a crutch, there’s nowhere else, nobody else, nothing.” It’s the most vulnerable moment on a record full of introspection. In this moment, I see just how much the break with the church has affected Hardy, and it makes me assess my own connections to spirituality and organized religion, a relationship which has been tenuous at best in the past.
The bluesy “Whimper” is one of the most intricately constructed songs of Microwave’s career. On their previous record, Stovall, they pushed such a sense of urgency that there is no way they could have pulled of the ethereal timbre of a song like this. Hardy gives one of the best vocal performances of the year on this track, balancing a sort of self-loathing with an impressively delicate tone as he delivers the song’s final lines: “We’re not even friends. I’m just the means to an end. Still I’d give all my self-respect up just to be with you again.” And just when you think Hardy couldn’t have poured his sorrow into the track anymore, the song blasts back in from a fake ending with a pleading, desperate guitar solo — one of the most vibrant and cathartic moments on the entire record.
The guitar solos, by the way, are some of the most audacious I have heard for an album in this genre of music — giving Bayside a run for their money. “Lighterless” and “Neighbors” both have guitar solos that also seem to unfold from the nowhere but compliment the song in such a brilliant way, perhaps because Microwave has some of the filthiest guitar tones in all of “emo” music. They also have one of the most steadying hands behind the kit in Tito Pittard, who turns in another exceptional performance. His drumming seems to have a simmering energy to it, even on songs where he is playing to a groove, like on “Whimper” or “Wrong.”
The music on Much Love is a significant departure from the band’s debut Stovall, an album I also adored. The music is more maturely composed here, with significant thought given to not just the flow of the record but the transition between tracks. Each track flows slightly into the proceeding, which, while a minuscule feature, changes the experience of listening to the record dramatically. It gives Much Love an air of cohesion, a cohesion that is further reinforced by the record’s significantly improved, though still raw, production quality.
While Hardy’s vocals are occasionally buried in the mix, especially on early album tracks like “Roaches” and “Lighterless,” these seem more like stylistic choices than sloppy mixing. Compositionally, the songs are much more mature as well, allowing the songs to be reserved in a way that nothing on Stovall was. “Wrong,” the beautiful, heart-wrenching closer to the album, is one of the more sparse songs in the band’s brief discography, allowing it the room-to-breathe to make the proper impact.
All this leads to the conclusion that it is near-impossible to compare Stovall and Much Love. While Stovall is brimming with the energy of a new kid on the block complete with the inherent naivety, Much Love represents the next-door-neighbor who has been through it all before. Perhaps life is as meaningless as Microwave makes it seem, but I know that with two absolutely stellar album under their belt, Microwave will be the band that is soundtracking my attempts to find out.