Slowdive. Cigarettes After Sex. Mazzy Star. These three bands are among the very best when it comes to breathtaking dreamgaze and dream-pop. Their secret, though, doesn’t lie solely in the heart-fluttering soundscapes or the knee-buckling vocals of their famous lead singers, but also in the vividly poignant lyrics they craft. Their songs are stories we all can relate to, and often we feel like we are the main character, that the song is about us. This exclusive fraternity now opens its doors to Wy.
Comprised of Malmö, Sweden-based duo Ebba Agren and Michel Gustafsson, Wy are one of the year’s biggest surprises, rising from a niche following in Scandinavia to broadening their base throughout Europe and beyond. On Friday they unveiled their highly-anticipated debut album, Okay, which is an unforgettable and beautiful emotional roller coaster that must be experienced repeatedly. It is the rare introspective album that dazzles musically, enchants with lush vocals, and crushes souls with its stories. These stories, however, are not just works of fiction but Agren opening up her diary and allowing us to know her deepest thoughts. The result is some of the most devastating songs written this year.
“Indolence” opens the album, and Wy ease us into their introspective world – at least musically. The brooding, darkgaze atmosphere is akin to Slowdive at their minimalist best. Agren’s mournful vocals and solemn lyrics, however, tell a different story, as she reflects on being paralyzed and trapped. She immediately takes us inside her bedroom where she is “crying to cartoons in bed / On my pillow of sadness / In my teen angst hoodie / I just try try try.”
Wy’s cinematic beauty is revealed on the gorgeous “What Would I Ever Do”. As Gustafsson’s subdued yet immaculate instrumentation creates a spellbinding soundscape, Agren shares a crippling story of living with depression and a lack of self-confidence. Her story is for anyone who has felt alienated and alone, where the only friend they know is despair:
“Believe me I’ve done it all
I thought I didn’t look great with my clothes off
Like my bare skin was bruised
And my thighs not slim enough
And I couldn’t care that my shoulders could lift things heavier than me.
“Mental” is the dawn of a new day. As R&B-infused, Blood Orange-like vibes fill the air, Agren reveals that “I think I’m okay with my body now”. This moment is fleeting as depression grabs hold of her again. She silently cries out, “I’m shameless and it makes sense / I wrote it on my chest / That I’m mental and I’m unfit.” Through such emotional and mental anguish, Wy honestly explain how one can “Hate to Fall Asleep”. This shoegaze dazzler is one of the album’s most widescreen songs and one of its most powerful tracks. Gustafsson’s guitar work is fantastic, creating the stark but illuminating environment that is Agren’s prison – her bedroom. It is also her solace:
“I keep my feet up in the bed
I hide my sad face in my hands
but it makes me smile
to think that people laugh at me
when I can barely laugh at myself.”
On “Don’t Call”, Wy deliver a Goth-folk number akin to Zola Jesus, only dreamier. Lyrically, too, the band craft a story of self-inflicted isolation where loneliness is one’s only friend. The outcome of such actions is brilliantly described on the languid, stripped-down acoustic “Kind”. Two lines in the song encapsulate the entire album: “I try to be strong for everyone / But I lose some battles somehow.”
These lines provide the foundation of the gorgeous “Bathrooms”, one of the most beautiful songs of the year. The song rivals the stirring intimacy and breathtaking beauty of Cigarettes After Sex and Mazzy Star. However, Agren’s songwriting stands alone with her intense, devastating story of a woman hiding her struggles and pains to the world. The person she sees in the mirror is not who she really is, but she cannot reveal her to everyone to see. What is the secret she is hiding?
“Don’t trust my voice when I stumble
Trembling over strings I cut off
so scared of boredom and catching dust”
There is always a glimmer of hope in every story, which is told on “You + I”. This is one of the rare love songs on a dreamy album, but it’s not an ordinary tale of romance. Rather, this story comes from inside the mind of the protagonist who wishes to love but cannot find the right words nor the confidence to make it happen. Agren’s imagery in the song is impeccable as she longingly sings, “My hands cannot hold the words from my tongue / But I cannot speak enough and I can’t shut myself up”.
An ethereal quality permeates “10 p.m.”, a song that seems to be dedicated to important people in her life. The song is shrouded in memory, where all Agren “wanted was normal / I wanted us happy and photos of me when I smile genuinely / I wanted to wake up one day and feel the sun on my face.”
The closer, “Gone Wild”, likewise, is an ode to her family. As Gustafsson creates a stripped-back and haunting soundscape, concern, desperation, and despair drip from each word Agren sings. She reveals her deepest fears, wondering what life would be life if everyone important to her passed away and if she could never right past wrongs. Just as her voice fades away, Gustafsson turns the song into a stargazing enchantment. This moment is exhilarating, but just as quickly as the burst of radiance arrives it disappears. Agren’s voice is the last thing we hear, and her words leave a permanent mark:
“Maybe it’s not me, maybe I’m almost sane
Maybe I’m almost…
Wy’s debut album is much more than “okay”. It is a stunning achievement by a duo who once hovered in obscurity but will soon become one of Sweden’s most celebrated bands. Okay isn’t for the faint of heart, but those willing to invest the time will be rewarded with one of the most stunning – and magnificent – albums of the year.
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