Wave is Patrick Watson’s most cathartic and connected music yet.
Here’s the thing: lately I’ve been feeling like the world has hit its saturation point of sad-white-boy records. That’s not to suggest that these albums — made by caucasian cis males in response to an experience of loss, depression, and their eventual climb out of that darkness — are somehow inauthentic or not worthy of recognition; it’s just that so many of them have dominated the discourse surrounding popular music over the decades that they’ve become a genre themselves.
And while I know that certainly sounds like it could be a dig at Patrick Watson and his latest record, Wave, it’s not. Yes, I may have a genuine case of sad-white-boy fatigue, but I also have an addiction for beautifully crafted, genre-disrupting music borne through pain and invested with personality. And Wave has that in spades. Void of heart-wrenching emotion and pathos, Wave is a quiet, subtle album that rises and falls like the rolling waters it’s named for. “Tell me where the wind is blowing cause that’s where the music’s going,” he sings on “Melody Noir”, an acknowledgment that, while the songs took inspiration from his personal experiences, Watson was open and vulnerable enough to see outside his own mind.
This approach, a theory of mind way of making music that is less about the individual and more about human interactions and relationships, sounds simple but is rarely achieved. Many artists end up having to write ‘in character’ when trying to convey another’s perspective, but on “Broken”, he seamlessly blends both sides of a failing relationship into an intricate dance of push-and-pull that is tender and taut with tension and heartache. By using the first-person plural just as often as the first-person singular (“Tell me why we’re going so fast / Never used to run when we were young,”) Watson paints a panorama encompassing the full breadth of their journey that suggests, even at its demise, a relationship requires two souls to actively engage with each other.
With many familiar musical touchstones — swelling strings, glitchy blips, skittering beats — Wave feels like a summation of the last decade in popular music. Like rivers and tributaries finding their way towards a common pool, Watson lets all these musical elements co-mingle and coalesce in a way that defies easy pigeonholing. It’s quiet, yes, but resounding in its overt beauty, message, and story. His honesty and self-efficacy taps into a collective consciousness, human experiences shared across socio-cultural divides. He may be a sad white male, but first and foremost, Patrick Watson is human. Despite my great consternation, I too am a (somewhat) sad white male who finds catharsis in channelling my emotions into creativity. Wave is overflowing with genuine humanity; it is Patrick Watson’s most cathartic and connected music yet.