Waves Are Universal
hen you’re dealing with the first solo effort by a musician with previous (occasionally lauded) work with various bands, it’s easy to drag ideas and stereotypes from the past and plop them all onto the newest work. I don’t want to do that. Yes, the sound of Waves Are Universal broadly conforms to what you might expect from one of the voices of Slowdive and moved from that brand of sumptuous shoegaze into the more folky Mojave 3. Obviously, since it’s still the same voice, if you hated her before you’ll hate her now, and vice versa. All of that goes without saying (although it will be said, over and over). Let’s focus on what’s really important here.
There is, unless my ears deceive me, a bagpipe on the first song here. “Warm Summer Sun” (which would have totally made it on my summer mixtape this year if I’d heard it in time) lilts along for over two minutes pleasantly enough, but then Rachel finishes singing, the acoustic guitars and drums pick up a bit, and an accordion and what my girlfriend (who used to play the pipes) informs me are Irish bagpipes come in for a whole minute and a half to sweep the tune out in warm, stately fashion.
That’s what this album could do with more of: songs that don’t shy away from the comfortable musical milieu Goswell is familiar with with an added injection of mystery and life. In the first half of Waves Are Universal they’re fairly easy to find, from the country-rock of “No Substitute” to the almost impossibly delicate “Plucked”. There are apparently even field recordings scattered throughout these songs, which indicates Goswell’s heart is in the right place, but I have yet to actually notice them (and I‘ve tried). “Coastline” is darker in sound than much of what’s here, which is why it succeeds. “Deelay” is sweeping and “Hope” a nice acoustic singalong (although it possesses the biggest lyrical mis-step here: “City livin’ it don’t come easy”), but both tread uneasily on the narrow path separating the sublime from the merely pleasant.
Most of the latter portion of the disc sadly falls off that path onto the wrong side. It’s hard to fault something like “Beautiful Feeling” for merely being nice, but after even the modest ambition displayed by “Coastline” and “Warm Summer Sun” it’s hard not to want more. Goswell deserves praise for putting together a solid album that could appeal to both fans of her previous work and others; this is no rank piece of collector bait. But having at long last stretched her compositional and performing muscles, let’s hope next time she builds on the stronger songs here.