In the moment of hesitation between the opening chord and the entrance of the entire ensemble lies the enigmatic quality that drives California Wives’ debut album Art History, an album that continually surprises and refreshes its listeners with a soothing juxtaposition of steady rock anthems and new wave electronic vibes.
The sound of the album should come as no surprise, with every member of the Chicago-based quartet citing both alternative rock and electronic bands as influences heavily contributing to the creation of their own music. However, while California Wives are quick to point out what brought them all together, a honed focus on quality songwriting is what drives them forward.
Less focused on defining a highly original sound or ambiance, thematic elements reign supreme, with Art History centering itself upon the universal event of losing one’s youth and the sometimes tiring coming-of-age that accompanies it. Tracks such as “Twenty Three,” “Blood Red Youth,” and “Marianne” all display this general nostalgic feeling by commanding their attention through driving beats and synthesizer overtones all layered underneath lyrics that flow with ease in addition to sometimes surprisingly heavy rock guitars.
“Photolights,” the album’s nearly entirely instrumental midpoint, offers a semi-symbolic shift in musical tone, with the first half of the album relying heavily upon electronic foundations while the final five songs give way to a much more classically alternative ambiance.
With much of the lyrics delivered at a quiet level, the listener may encounter a glossing of the eyes as they sink into a dream-like state while each track flows seamlessly into the next. But that is not to say the tracks of this album are indiscernible from one another. “The New Process” offers a distinctly ‘80s feeling while tracks such as “Purple” and “Los Angeles” clearly draw from alternative roots to derive their upbeat and catchy points of focus.
All in all, Art History is a safe, solid debut effort from a band in the process of defining their sound. And for an album that only appears to get better with each listen, it is safe to say there are many great things to come from California Wives in the future.