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Album review: ‘FANDOM’ creates diverse sounds to show true nature of rising fame

(Courtesy of Hopeless Records)



Hopeless Records

Released Friday

By Brooke Cuzick

Oct. 11, 2019 5:35 p.m.

Waterparks – self proclaimed as “God’s favorite boyband” – is back again with an explosive new release.

Following a record label switch and the purposeful deletion of its nearly released album “Friendly Reminder,” Waterparks has arrived at its newest sonically variant and lyrically groundbreaking destination with “FANDOM.” Each track is connected by tactfully smooth transitions that come together to create an album that tells the harrowing story of a band rising to stardom. “FANDOM” reveals the truth behind the glimmer of fame, lyrically touching upon themes like heartbreak and the reality of handling internal turmoil over utterly electric instrumentals.

The album’s opener, “Cherry Red,” shows a strong evolution in production quality from Waterparks’ impressive work on its previous album, “Entertainment.” Rhythmic guitar and drums lead into the song with a sparkling synth, adding a magical element to the start of the tale where lead singer and lyricist Awsten Knight dotes over a toxic lover. Backtracking of grunge electric guitars and twinkling chimes make the song reminiscent of The 1975’s debut album, leading up to the energetic album that follows.

A perfect musical swell leads into the hard-hitting second track, “Watch What Happens Next.” The half-talk, half-singing track is led by sharp electric guitar chords and discusses the struggles Knight faces with feeling trapped by his fans’ opinions of him. He vents his exasperated feelings as he sings, “You don’t love me the same / … / I don’t deserve as much as all your pop faves / … /I’ll never be enough until it’s too late.” The track effectively translates Knight’s frustrations with both the music industry and fan culture with its intense sound.

[Related: Q&A: Waterparks’ Awsten Knight talks visual and musical conception behind latest album]

The tinny pop yet ‘80s grunge sound of third track “Dream Boy” masks its somber message behind an upbeat sound – Knight sarcastically calls himself “custom-made for everyone. A high-pitched and distorted electric guitar guides listeners into “Easy To Hate.” The carefree vocals contrast with the narrative of Knight’s tumultuous journey with his lover, as he finds them too “hard to love.”

The jazzy piano and a clapping backtrack of “Telephone” and the meme-able 14-second track “Group Chat” – which doesn’t take itself too seriously – keep the record balanced in theme. On the latter, the momentary speaking features from Waterparks drummer Otto Wood and guitarist Geoff Wigington pair well with the innocent, hopeless-romantic tones of the prior. They create a hyper-positive image of the band fans might see online.
The lead singer of Waterparks, Awsten Knight, is jarringly honest with his lyrics in "FANDOM." He allows listeners a glimpse inside his mind behind the facade of fame in the band's newest release, writes columnist Brooke Cuzick. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)

Lyrical honesty peaks in slower, more stripped back tracks like “High Definition,” which reveals cracks in the band’s polished surface image as Knight reveals his struggles with loving and feeling loved. He confesses his internal emotions with, “I need to feel needed and I need it more than I let on / Alone is safer than with you.”

The album’s ninth track, “Never Bloom Again,” ties in with track thirteen “Worst,” as the love story that threads throughout “FANDOM” runs its course. Both of the acoustic tracks take on a fitting, melancholic sound as Knight mourns the loss of his love.

In the same vein of moving on from an ended relationship, fans will remember “Worst” from its original, eventually private video that Knight posted to YouTube in 2017. The new version of the track is polished with small, vocalized ad libs that run throughout its instrumentally minimalistic acoustic guitar strums and snaps. A soundbite from Knight further invites listeners into his mindset as he says between verses, “It’s like everybody tells you you gotta love yourself / … / but it gets so weird when you actually do it.”

[Related: Music Preview: Some artists find new sounds in fall album releases, others make comebacks]

Following the album’s trend of blunt lyrics, “I Miss Having Sex But At Least I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” lives up to the allure of its title, incorporating a catchy guitar strum pattern. The song – which was first hinted at when Waterparks performed it at SlamDunk festival in the Spring – balances lyrics about being conflicted with gritty vocals to end the song. Knight sings the titular line throughout the chorus followed by “And I think that’s pretty cool,” mixing the insight of his darker thoughts with a casual retort, ensuring the track doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Almost to avoid over-sharing, “[Reboot]” and “Zone Out” revisit and retract the initial confidence of “Dream Boy.” Knight reveals how sees himself verses how others view him as he admits, “I never promised you your dream boy.” In a reprise of the original track, “Zone Out” slows it down and offers a dreamy music box version. It allows listeners to reflect on newfound knowledge they have of Knight’s internalized thoughts and how he may not be as perfect as it might first appear.

The album’s concluding track, “I Felt Younger When We Met” offers a satisfying ending to the world “FANDOM” has created. The arch of a toxic love story that hides behind a facade reaches an ending Knight seems satisfied with. Over the reverb of electric guitars, he sings “I said ‘I love you to death,’ so I must be dead,” accepting the ending and looking to the future.

The album’s powerful final track fades to the sound of a ticking clock that transitions effortlessly back into the first track – fitting for an album that listeners will want to keep on repeat.

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Brooke Cuzick
Cuzick is currently a senior staff writing for Arts and Entertainment. She was previously the Music | Fine Arts editor and an A&E reporter.
Cuzick is currently a senior staff writing for Arts and Entertainment. She was previously the Music | Fine Arts editor and an A&E reporter.
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