I am a product of the 90’s Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture is an ironic tale of deep poignancy. Kurt Cobain is a cultural hero and not just some guy that made overrated pop/rock. I hate boy bands like I hate ant infestations, and yet I find myself unwilling to admit or remember that I danced to every Backstreet Boys single on the top of my bed. I learned to play guitar because Liam Gallagher said I could, even though he said I would most certainly suck. Lastly, I find Blink 182 an incredibly talented group of idiots, and that juxtaposition gives me a headache.
This all leads into my deep respect and interest in the rather safe but nostalgic work of Lullwater. Lullwater does not fit into any contemporary musical niche. They are not toying with off-tuned guitars and screaming like the major punk/metal bands. They are not playing sappy neckbeard folk/pop, or using a synthesizer as a guitar and dominating the charts a la ‘Imagine Dragons.’ They are also products of the 90’s, and they probably hate mainstream music as much as the rest of us. Does that sound cynical? Well guess who else was cynical? Eddie Vedder. Anyways, I don’t hate all mainstream music- just the ones that lean into trends and not rebel against them.
So Lullwater carves their own sound in this rapidly changing day and age, and it is ironically extremely similar to what we heard roughly 25 years ago when Nevermind dominated the charts. And yes, I said 25. Now who feels old?
Lullwater dips into a few cultural idioms, notably the late 90’s efforts of post-grunge torchbearers such as Bush, Audioslave, and Live. The band has this very infectious 90’s sound, which is infused with this level of nostalgia that 90’s kids like me find deeply humbling and comforting. It must be in that guitar-centric sound, propelled with a rock propensity in songs like ‘Oddline’ or ‘A Plane.’
But when the band dial things back for a little melancholy balladry, it instantly reminds you of the best of the 90’s grunge ballads. You hear a little ‘Lightning Crashes’ here, with the full theatrical bombasticity that makes the music so illuminating and smart. A little the Verve Pipe, the oft-forgotten 90’s gems most responsible for ‘the Freshman.’ This is best exemplified with the country-sounding ‘Walk On By.’ It is a beautiful track, and though it cannot quite hold up to the big historical rock ballads, taken on its own terms it is a gorgeous song worth revisiting a few times over- and then again tomorrow.
Lullwater even sounds like the best of the Foo Fighters here and there. One song in particular, ‘New Design,’ seems like a wonderfully sensational impression of ‘Learn to Fly’ from the early 200’s Foos album, There is Nothing Left to Lose.
The group is led by the vocal acrobatics of John Strickland. He has this raspy and rowdy voice that is wonderfully fitting. His best moments sound like Scott Weiland. His best vocal performance probably comes from ‘Albatross,’ a riff-friendly vocal-laden jam with a great hook to boot. His vocals on ‘Curiosity’ sounds like Layne Staley’s little brother, a snarling little growl that makes the hook all the more appetizing.
The group is rounded out by Brett Strickland on guitar, Ray Beatty on bass, and Joe Wilson on drums.
So the question is, is Lullwater weighty enough to stand on their own two feet? The answer is an assured yes. Miming great 90’s acts is a reinvigorating and legitimate course to success and intrigue in 2014. Plus, you may as well copy from the best and not try to replicate Smash Mouth or Sugar Ray, for example. They could be trying to replicate Crazy Train to the benefit of absolutely no one. If you do not know who Crazy Train is, I am jealous.
There is a lot of buzz about a 90’s resurgence and how we are moving into another age of relevance for the big classic genre known as grunge. I do not want to confine Lullwater to this era of music because I do not believe it does them justice. They have an impeccable knack for songwriting. I belive their writing and style is a natural progression of the bands they cherish, as opposed to a conscious effort to stay away from the leading trends of today. They clearly love Alice in Chains frolicking vocal acrobatics, and they adore that guitar-driven rock that is plastered all over Pearl Jam’s No Code or Vitalogy. They are clearly influenced by the pop songwriting in Mudhoney’s music, or the best material from Stone Temple Pilots a la Purple or Tiny Music. They are clearly impressed and in love with Nirvana, but who the hell isn’t?
So what are we left with? We are left with a band channeling the likes of grunge titans, and trying to create their own version of what they love. There is a fine line between borrowing and downright mimicking, and Lullwater tease this with incomplacent abandon.
But it is not wise to simply compare them to the greatest band of the past, which have proven their nature by standing the test of time. Lullwater is their own entity, separate and unique from what came before. Originality is a myth. It is a claim that only Buckethead and Tom Waits can hold onto. Everyone else is unoriginal, but not in a bad sense. They are simply playing what they know and love without often copying for the sake of copying.
I love Lullwater because they simultaneously remind me why I love 90’s rock. But they are not pushing me to play that stuff. They are complimenting the work. When you look back to the greatest masters of a particular style, which is the best you can hope for. If you do not want to turn them off in favor of a group of the highest stature, you are doing a great job. Lullwater remains on, and will remain on for quite some time. And perhaps over time- a few months- a few years- a few more albums, I can look at Lullwater fondly and see a group deserving of their place in the echelon of music. A band that has stood the test of time, come into their own, and broken free of the sound and beauty they seem to hold on their sleeve with such sincerity.
Ryan Merkel is a cool writer guy and contributor all over the internet, from blogs on music to magazines about music to sites about playing music. He is currently founder of SunState Investing and is head editor of the music entertainment magazine, CultureTease. He has written two novels, and is currently working on a third full-length novel, surprisingly, not about music. His novel “Splatter the Noise” earned accolades for independent publishing. Be sure to check out: www.sunstateinvesting.com
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