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Review: Microwave, Let’s Start Degeneracy

An album of two halves from the Atlanta outfit.

Musical evolution is a funny thing. Bands that repeat themselves are doomed to fade away (the exception being AC/DC), but changing without focus can lead a ship off course. While not quite as jarring as Deafheaven, who dropped their post-rock leanings to go full shoegaze on 2019’s Infinite Granite, alt-rock trio Microwave has taken their own left turn but with less conviction. Five years after their most caustic release, Death is a Warm Blanket, the band has returned with Let’s Start Degenracy, a strange mix of psych-pop, indie, and slick pop rock. In some artists’ hands, genre-hopping can be a blessing—think Beck or Damon Albarn—but Microwave’s emo-tinged beginnings prove less convincing.

The project begins with the stoned ditty “Portals,” featuring musician Blaire Robinson. Crickets chirp in the background, a hymn is sung, and guitars melt into the distance. It feels like more of an album closer than opener, but it is a total vibe nonetheless. The familiar vocals of Nathan Hardy then appear over the drowsy synth number “Ferrari,” a tune that strays far too close to a slow Owl City record. In 2024, we should demand more. It’s almost unfathomable that this is the same band that recorded “The Brakeman Has Resigned.”

“Circling the Drain” corrects course, with the band dropping a familiar, catchy headbanger they’ve notoriously built their career on. “Bored of Being Sad” finds the band creating an anthem about self-growth, singing the angsty lyrics, “If you romanticize misery, brother, you’re going to be miserable.” In just over three minutes, the band explosively destroys the notion that being a tortured artist is cool. It’s a wise message from musicians with just ten years in the game. 

The album’s standout is “Straw Hat,” where the band adds some welcome moments of psych-pop to a fragile-sounding chorus before attacking listeners’ ears with a filthy-sounding solo. It’s a first-rate use of the Pixies’ patented loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Unfortunately, things go astray with the album’s forgettable title track. It’s the type of material Superorganism does with more verve, but Microwave’s attempt at art-pop feels too anchored to a by-the-numbers structure.

Down but not out, the trio finds some late-game redemption with the baggy-indebted “Strangers.” On paper, the band going full 1989 Madchester shouldn’t work, but it’s here that Microwave’s experimentation pays off. The only shame is the track’s short runtime. A groove this infectious should be left to linger.

With their fourth studio release, Microwave mentioned wanting to be “unbound by realities other than their own.” A cynic may accuse the album of lacking a concrete vision, and they might be right. There’s no doubt the album is scattershot. Still, there are nuggets of gold and band chemistry that keep things afloat. Let’s Start Degeneracy is by no means a disaster, but more of a wobbly step as Microwave pinpoints a more mature sound. Nevertheless, any band willing to mix things up deserves applause.

CONE Mag Album Score: 63/100

Words Sam Walker-Smart



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