After what feels like a lifetime for some fans, Brisbane-based WAAX have put forward their debut album Big Grief. That’s not to say they haven’t been busy, however. WAAX have been putting out cracker single after cracker single for the better part of four years. So it’s safe to say this is pretty highly anticipated. Touring all over with acts like Fall Out Boy and Biffy Clyro, not to mention the enormous amount of festivals that they’ve been part of, WAAX are today’s flavour and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
One of the best utilised attributes the band can claim is their truthful, taboo-topic-tackling and transfixing lyricism. As their platform has grown substantially over the years, it’s become a tool to empower and lend a voice to those in need. Big Grief is a tribute to down-trodden as well as a big middle finger to the selfish, more of which I’ll go into detail about soon. The album is the love child of, obviously, the ever-talented WAAX along with Powderfinger front man Bernard Fanning and Nick DiDia of acts such as: Bruce Springsteen, Rage Against the Machine, and Pearl Jam. If you hadn’t read between the lines already, this album is jammed full of talent, passion and hard-hitting messages.
Track one, the self-referential “Big Grief”, kicks us off with a messy bit of strumming that warms up to a collected melody. The track remains sombre in tone but toys with pacing to create somewhat of a pleasant rhythm. It is the musical embodiment of bittersweet feelings, like a struggle with mental health. There’s a constant tug of war to the ear partnered with digestible and catchy lyrics.
With the line “Cleanliness is godliness”, I can’t help but hope there’s The Smashing Pumpkins influence showing through (From the 1995 track “Zero”). However, it is much more likely a convenient partnership to the lines about scrubbing away the ‘big grief’ inside; an equal part simplistic and complex take on the nasty feeling of being coated in misery. On initial listens, it is far too easy to glaze over the verse’s introspective nature by being swept up in the entrancing chant that is the chorus. “I got a big grief pouring out of me. Some days it’s not so easy.” Vocalist Maz DeVita is right, some days it’s not easy at all but trying is the important part. No one can take that away from you.
“Labrador” hits our ears next and it is immediately a shift in tone, sound and production. Where “Big Grief” was a more subdued commentary, “Labrador” is an angry, anthemic call out. Already the album feels like somewhat of a mood swing, there’s a depressing coat placed on us that is quickly thrown off in a fit of rage. The song personally feels closer to WAAX’s previous sound (a beloved era) but less like the rockier vibe throughout the rest of the album. Saying that though, I would be fairly disheartened if it got left off Big Grief.
The track has always been a favourite of mine but this time around I’m far too eager to see what the group have in store for us; a sensation similar to the plot of the first Toy Story film, sorry Woody. While that may be the case, it is hard to say if there will ever be another WAAX lyric that compares to “So, I’ll pack my shit up and go.” It’s a wailer for sure.
We’re now onto one of the most hypnotic offerings from Big Grief’s tracklist, that being “No Apology”. I went back and forth on what I thought truly stuck out musically from this track, only to come to the conclusion that it is all culminated flawlessly. I found the crisp and sharp snaps from Tom Bloomfield’s drums to be what hooked me, only to be captivated by what came next. Ewan Birtwell’s hazy and wiry guitar that later shines with excellent use of what I can only speculate is a whammy bar. The rumbling bass from Tom Griffin is so authentically WAAX that it hurts. You could tell me it was another band my entire life and I still wouldn’t believe you. What I left until last is now quite obvious, but still by far the best instrument on “No Apology”: Maz’s raw performance along with her incredible versatility makes this a platinum karaoke hit. This is the album’s vocal performance that itches at you all day until you’re alone to escape – whether that be in a car, shower, or maybe a bedroom.
All vocal gymnastics aside, the song itself is a perfect outlet for rage. If you’re one more work day from burning the place down, then I highly advise you to let your hair down and put “No Apology” on for a spin. On the song’s bridge we have an almost bipolar seesaw of emotion regarding the private paradise of home. “Home is heaven, home is hell”, repeats over and over with that entrancing guitar performance makes it feel like the narrator has finally snapped and begun some sort of spiral. A downward internal spiral is possible but I’m much more on the side of shredded uniforms and strongly-worded resignation letters.
Coming up to a third of the way through, we are treated with the familiar single “FU”. It’s a track that takes an empowering stance against shitty people. Its chorus could be heard all over the country and I’m sure will continue to be with a mantra like “Nobody hurts me, fuck you for trying”. “FU” is an anthem unlike any other and if you’re interested further, you can find my article that goes into more depth (no pun intended).
Track five “History” shows how flexible WAAX can be. One of the album’s more tender tunes, the song is a letter to a past lover. The ballad is a slow and mournful vibe that feels much more like pride by the time we reach the end. The gentle sounds evolve into the band’s trademark garage rock sound to close out the piece. If I were to speculate, I’d draw the conclusion that “History” relates to the departure of former guitarist, Chris Antolak. The fun part about art is that it doesn’t have to objectively mean anything, however. The song is a bold contrast coming straight from the previous song, but it serves well as a palate cleanser. Half the excitement of a full-length release is being able to see a side of bands that doesn’t normally come through. This tone continues onto the next track, “Changing Face”.
Another softer track slathered in emotion, “Changing Face” picks up the acoustic guitar for a more unplugged performance. The song is a beautiful moment of intimacy for DeVita and the audience. The chorus’ parting words “You won’t see me around”, carry a hefty weight while still somehow remaining hopeful. Something to be said about the song is the supporting gang vocals that find their voice late into the piece. The production as a whole is very sharp, efficient and ever so gazy; all of which leave those final words echoing through the listener’s mind.
“Fade” plugs the instruments back in and wastes no time turning the volume up. DeVita finds that signature cadence and has us reeling. Her use of this around the lines “I was misplaced, I tried to forget” has a better hook than most band’s hit singles. I definitely can’t resist the guitar work on “Fade”. I find it to be one of the album’s standouts by far. An element of the song writing I appreciate is that the lyrics are accessible and honest, while still remaining vague enough for the audience to adopt them as their own message. This is one that is somewhat lost on me but I’m glad it exists for someone who may need these words. Sometimes, you just need a melody that will stick in your head for days and to me, “Fade” is that.
Speaking of earworms, “Little Things” is one of those underestimated gems. At first glance, the song is a fun sing-along, but it bubbles to the surface whenever you least expect. The choruses’ many repetitions of “Woah-oh” really manage to staple this one to the brain. The song is a real show of Big Grief’s fantastic production especially in the song’s closing few bars. It’s one you can really lose yourself to.
“I Am” leads in well from the previous effort, and in my opinion is perfectly placed on the album’s tracklist. The last single leading up to Big Grief is both a self-deprecation and a self-empowerment piece. Discussing neurosis and over indulgence in introverted activities, it’s a relatable feeling that a lot of people succumb to.
DeVita wants to do away with these things, and that is where the self-empowerment comes into play. She realises that she’s devoting too much of herself to somebody else as seen in lyrics like “I wanna cure your chords, not help myself”. Obviously, the lyrics “And I forgot the person that I am, am, am yeah”, are the most memorable but they don’t compare to the bloodletting that is the song’s verses. “I Am” is a perfect showcase of WAAX’s one-of-a-kind writing.
Revisiting some of the distortion we heard back on “Little Things”, “Why” hits us hard with a wall of sound. This song is gritty and rough, I love it. We have the distorted production underneath the guttural wailing from DeVita creating this melting feeling. “Why” feels like the annoying dismissal of mental health: “Why are you still sad?”. It really is a sarcastic ode to those less educated in the importance of happiness and healthiness.
“You are young and in your prime. You could go and make some sense of your life”. The lyrics are all too real for some. The ever-growing distortion and screaming seems to reflect these opinions blurring into the brain’s rubbish bin. The lack of consideration for each other in society is tiring, and DeVita’s moaning vocals paint a visceral picture of this frustration. Coming in at the album’s shortest runtime, “Why” reminds me of a tactical vent to try and prevent imploding.
By far the most unique sound of the album, “Last Week” is the penultimate track of Big Grief. The electronic drums and indie-folk guitar tone stand boldly against the rest of the album’s sonic decisions. “Last Week” tends to glaze over me, there isn’t a lot that I find makes the track overly unique. It is more of a plead to remember who you are, and not to undervalue where you are in life currently. The song tends to feel more like an interlude rather than an individual piece.
Last and definitely not least, “IDKWIFL” is here to round out Big Grief. “I don’t know what it feels like”, is the expanded version of the song’s acronym title as well as the repeated phrase throughout. The track has this killer mid-2000s rock sound to it that honestly feels like a dedication to a bygone era. Something is to be said about Bloomfield’s drumming again, his crashing cymbals and thumping bass drum really bring “IDKWIFL” to life. Another one discussing neurosis, the song plays on the themes of insecurity, anxiety and a lack of confidence. By kicking it into overdrive and unleashing the full band, WAAX have crafted a fitting farewell to the album.
Collectively, Big Grief is a really solid effort from a band who seem to continuously put out fantastic music. It’s a collection of themes that are becoming more of an everyday conversation between people. It’s important for people on platforms to show their human side and offer a supportive hand to people who need it. WAAX have never fallen short of this, but Big Grief is another level of honest, modern-day reality. It is for people with anxiety, depression, body image issues, desires, and dreams but most importantly, it’s for anybody who needs it. While the album sounds clash a little at times and it falls into the occasional lull, this an outstanding debut full-length for any band.
Empowering words through hard themes. Nice runtime. Incredible production. Vocal skills are untouchable.
The album falls stagnant once or twice throughout. At times it feels more like a collection of singles than a cohesive and continuous vibe.