On the last track of their Robobo record, WAZU’s Matt sings “Don’t move and inch, don’t crack a smile.” The line seems to sum up the entire album, an indifferent web of dance, dark wave and guitar-driven fur if there ever was one.
Now based in New York City (where else?), these Aussie uproots scrap to find their humanity on Robobo and the listener is along for the trip. Whether that winds up being an elevating experience is up in the air, as the coolness and by-rote nature of the songs disseminates an estrangement effect that makes the music hard to get into.
That’s not to say that there isn’t something here for dead-eyed clubgoers, however, and Matt and Rizz’s aural disinterest may carry well with those too cool for school. Sifting through the opaque Depeche Mode homages and the retro pretension is a bit of work all the same.
Much of Robobo is couched in dark wave and goth pop platitudes and WAZU doesn’t seem to have met a genre cliché they didn’t like, but sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn’t, like when the band overstuffs songs to the point that any melodic core is concealed by far too much busywork.
The album doesn’t really pick up speed until “Show Your Skin,” a song highlighted by a nice guitar riff and playful energy. It’s the most active tune on the record, hopping with midway synthesizer and a few interesting tempo changes. Rizz’s vocals are on-point, with her “Baby, I can take you anywhere” line emerging right where it should be.
Sadly, WAZU’s manic tinkering blocks moments like the aforementioned from appearing very often. “Symbol System” starts well with desert-kissed guitar and a stutter beat, but the dark waves are too much (and too bossy) and the song drowns in clunky go-nowhere beats and a downwind haunted house flash of vocals and keys.
“I’ll Take You Over” is another mistake, with a droning vocal pattern and tedious guitar giving way to what should’ve been a stunning melodic reveal. In the hands of WAZU, the moment in the neon light is bloated with busy beats, misplaced keys and a groovy guitar that would’ve sounded better on its own.
Most of all, WAZU’s Robobo reveals the problem of affectation. It’s one thing to pay homage to a series of influential artists while crystallizing one’s own sound. It’s another thing altogether to take that approach to the extreme to the extent of losing anything uniquely human along the way.