Over the last few years, Auckland trio Wax Chattels have been regarded as one of the most exciting bands in Aotearoa. They have gained a reputation as a stunning live act, toured internationally, and released a critically acclaimed album. Now, they are back with their much anticipated second album Clot, and it is fair to say, they are still making the best “guitarless guitar music” going around.
Drawing on a mixture of post-punk and droning space sounds, think Doctor Who on crack, as an album, Clot takes the blueprint of the first Wax Chattels album and turns it up a notch with greater experimentation in terms of both tone and sonic atmosphere and some signs of musical progression in terms of song structure.
Once again, Peter Ruddell’s otherworldly keyboards and half-spoken word/half screamo vocals take centre stage, while mega rhythm section Amanda Cheng on bass and Tom Leggett on drums lock in together perfectly, providing the edge and intensity that Wax Chattels music thrives on.
Leggett’s drums are absolutely punishing, while Cheng’s thunderous bass lines pulsate underneath the sparks of Ruddell’s keys. This is the formula of Wax Chattel’s famed guitarless guitar music sound, a sound that not many bands have managed to pull off, not like this anyway.
The highlights of this record are really, really good, and include some songs that are up there with the best of the first album. Opening track "Glue" features droning sci-fi synths and a staccato drum pattern that at one point sounded like a machine gun being fired, while "Cede" has a strong Prodigy vibe, especially with the intro which conjured up similarities to their famed track "Firestarter".
"Mindfulness" is pure, honest post-punk, with a huge booming bassline combining nicely with jittery synths under another strong Ruddell vocal. The rhythmic complexities on display here show just how good these three are as musicians individually and that such talent allows for experimentation of this quality to come together in a strong way.
The band plays around with tempo on this record too, with things moving up a gear on the fast-paced "Spanners & Implements". This is the sort of song that could soundtrack a chase scene in a Bond film or something, and I can just imagine it being great fun when performed live.
Then there’s "Forever Marred", a song that features a star vocal performance from Cheng in a song that I can only describe as sounding like Portishead on speed. Cheng has really come on as a vocalist and it definitely shows on tracks like this one and indeed also the single "No Ties". If she was ever to release solo music, the blueprint has been laid down here with some outstanding vocal moments from her across the album.
All up, Clot is definitely a progression for Wax Chattels and features a more refined, focused sound. This could be put down to two more years in the musical trenches, but also a better-mixed record than their debut. You can definitely hear the bottom more in the mix here, something this band’s music thrives on, and a factor that really brought out the life of these new songs in a big way.
The instrumentation here is also first-class, as per usual with these musicians and it always amazes me that they can achieve such a distinct sound with only bass, drums, and keys. Although the album lacked a "Gillian" moment from album one, the intensity across the album probably meant that any sort of comedown might have disrupted the album’s flow, meaning that the lack of a ballad wasn’t as big a question mark as it could have been.
Already after two albums, Wax Chattels are developing quite the discography and, in the process keeping things interesting with each release musically speaking. Nobody else really makes music quite like this in New Zealand, and at this point, one can be sure that with every new project they put out, you know Wax Chattels will be constantly pushing the envelope of their sound as far as it can go.
Check Out Clot here