Hockey first made their mark in the alternative rock world in 2009 with the infectious, upbeat singles “Too Fake” and “Song Away.” Following the success of their debut album, the band traded their cozy hometown of Portland, Oregon for the rural forests of upstate New York, where they spent months writing and revising over fifty songs for their next album. Their sophomore release, Wyeth IS, represents a more experimental side of the band, driven by heavy electronic beats and a variety of themes. Though the album is occasionally held back by a lack of flow, Wyeth IS showcases Hockey’s huge potential alongside a new and exciting sound that breaks away from the strictly commercial image of the band’s past.
On first listen, Wyeth IS immediately sounds more cohesive and thematic than the band’s debut Mind Chaos. While the overall catchiness that made Mind Chaos so appealing is noticeably absent from the new album, the record is carried instead by a heavily electronic sound from start to finish, and lyrics that tell stories of hardship, self-reflection, and change.
Lead single “Calling Back” opens with a building synth-intro, processed vocals and a dynamic electronic rhythm that continues throughout the track as vocalist Benjamin Grubin weaves a semi-cryptic tale about self-improvement and the road to success. Remarkably different than its 2009 counterpart, “Too Fake,” “Calling Back” demonstrates Hockey’s current resolve to find a sound and style that is right for them, and to continue growing as a band. Album highlights “Thought I Was Changing” and “Meta Hard Life” further explore this exciting experimental sound while staying close to the themes the album has established. With its slow, heavy feel, “Thought I Was Changing” provides a welcome break from the energetic beats of the album while reflecting on having to cope with change. Similarly, “Meta Hard Life” tells a story about the challenges that come with living. Grubin sings the lyrics, “Voices and I feel alone, Kill the lights for crowd control, This meta hard life is way down in my soul,” above a memorable backtrack featuring catchy guitar licks and rhythmic drum line.
While Hockey’s potential shines throughout Wyeth IS’s eleven tracks, the most difficult aspect of this album to digest is the flow between songs. Although much of the album features interesting intros—“Rewards,” for example, opens with a brief symphonic sample—the band really makes no effort to transition between songs. The effect is eleven strong songs that ultimately seem disjointed and fail to connect to each other, even in spite of the fact that they are thematically very interrelated. This doesn’t lessen the fact that the album is a strong creative showing from a relatively young band, but it does make an album that could be deemed too obscure or experimental by some more prone to those criticisms.
In spite of its weaknesses, Wyeth IS stands as a surprisingly strong effort from a band undergoing a period of growth and metamorphosis. Hockey avoids the dreaded “sophomore slump” with a collection of songs that develop a more electronic sound and focus on similar themes. It will undoubtedly be fun to see where the band goes from here.