On their first full-length release, Australian rockers WAAX burst out of the gate brimming with a strong but vulnerable singular perspective that signifies artists who definitively know what they’re doing.
The album starts strong with the title track, which immediately lets the throaty, blood-bubbling vocals of Marie DeVita snatch the spotlight while the fuzzy, grinding guitars of James Gatling and Ewan Birtwell crest the wave of the rhythm section (courtesy of Tom Griffin and Tom Bloomfield) which rises and falls under the vocals, lending the song an urgency while never overpowering DeVita. The second track is undoubtedly the standout track and was one of the band’s earliest hit singles. “Labrador” is a clear-eyed, furious howl that releases a young life’s worth of frustration with being a woman and routinely coming up against societal and institutional walls that prevent you from even starting to show what you can do. DeVita embodies the woman being psychologically beaten down until she thinks “you were right all along, you’re better than me, I’m never enough [even though] in my head I thought I was more.”
That theme of struggling to break out of external and internal cages and boundaries is carried through some of the best songs on the album and adds a tangible and cathartic level of pathos to DeVita’s rocking yowls. She doesn’t appear then as a performer that is merely singing and shouting to the skies because it sounds like rock’n’roll, but rather she is a woman being pushed forward by tumultuous inner forces that need to be heard. Early track “No Apology” is a great example of this, as DeVita alternates between restraint, as she sings about “this comfortable hell” she lives in, in which she second-guesses herself and apologizes too much and howling about how sometimes she really just wants to “scream down the city,” illustrating that inner wild desire through her performance.
Of course, the music does its part in crafting wild energy that can go beyond what DeVita sings. “FU”—with the brilliant line “nobody hurts me, and fuck you for trying”—is largely shaped by the rollicking but melodic music underneath which explodes with the righteous indignation DeVita’s lyrics indicate. Additionally, and thankfully, WAAX does not fall into the trap of leaning so hard into the fuzz and the layered rock that every song essentially sounds like the same block of sound. Every musical choice made here feels like a choice made for that particular song and its intent. No one is sleepwalking through a song, and the band doesn’t rely on the scuzz rock loudness to just hand them their rock bona fides.
There are a few standout tracks in the back half of the album which actually turn the volume down quite a bit. “History,” despite a heavy and cathartic climax and “Changing Face” comes right in the middle to offer up two variations on a regretful relationship with somebody. “Changing Face” has DeVita mournfully admitting that “I hope you’re okay, but you won’t see me around” because that “you” has been pushing the singer away until she feels forced to give it up and leave them. Even when the mood is small, as on these songs and even more so on “Last Week,” DeVita’s assured and full-throated vocals cut through everything to hit you in the gut regardless of what she’s saying. Even in “Little Things,” when part of the chorus consists of DeVita wordlessly vocalizing, her performance is utterly compelling.
Big Grief is assuredly a rock album, but it has surprisingly heavy thoughts on its mind. The subjects addressed range from the already-mentioned soul-crushing sexism to being limited by your anxieties and inhibitions, abandoning a hopeless relationship, losing your identity in someone else, the confusion and uselessness of depression, and the never-ending search for personal satisfaction.
There are maybe two tracks that are slightly more lackluster than they could be, but generally, the album is a rich, rewarding listen that burrows into your mind and body exponentially with every listen. WAAX are well along the path to greatness with their first album already marking itself as a must-listen for fans of guitar-heavy rock, killer vocals, and sharp songwriting.