by Kelly Johnson
Ithaca, NY band why+the+wires specialize in a genre I like to call Crag Rock. A rough, rugged version of impassioned post-hardcore. Flame Failures is the band’s war cry; a rebel yell forged in dank DIY basements and living rooms. It’s an album full of dampened spirit but not one of defeat. There’s some hope in why+the+wires’ cryptic language of perseverance through the drudge of living.
Of course, most of the lyrics on Flame Failures do a thorough job of justifying the title. Singer/guitarist Dave Nutt inflects the weariness of disappointment-bordering-on-apathy into the songs with a scratchy voice endured from long Ithaca winters. Think Bryan Webb or Chuck Ragan. His delivery informs lines like, “I wasted all my twenties forging suicide notes” from “Crashed Home.” It’s about as direct as he gets on the album, but the ambiguous nature of lines like “We’ll tattoo all the lost blueprints and schematics across our chests” (Daycrawlers) doesn’t deter from the dejected sentiment the band presents. Life is confusing, and Nutt does a good job defining it with moody vignettes.
The word “nurse” comes up in several instances on Flame Failures. “Send in the Nurse” (Hello Nurse) and “Show me where the nurses are” (Service Animal) assert a trust that someone, or something can tend to the ennui that Nutt is feeling. The lyrics are a subtle admission that, despite it all, there is hope for meaning and comfort. However slim that hope may be.
The rest of why+the+wires do a fantastic job of creating dynamic rave-ups alongside Nutt’s reflections on despondency. In a similar vein to The Constantines, the band services all-out ragers (Crashed Home) and subdued contemplations (The Arm Will Lead the Way) with appropriate, raw intensity. But the secret weapon in its arsenal is Kevin Dossinger, who augments the songs with both tenor saxophone and accordion. His contributions galvanize the songs that might otherwise fall into characteristic post-hardcore.
Flame Failures is a bleak and serious record. But it’s also an attack against the toil. The dynamic range of the album indicates a band down but not out. It’s the sound of stubbornness in the face of tedium. It can be an exhausting sound, but one that why+the+wires creates effectively.