For a brief moment last spring, when getting a vaccination appointment no longer felt like winning some kind of crazy lottery, and covid-19 cases had convincingly, albeit temporarily, receded, it seemed that Americans were collectively ready for a big return to pleasure. Remember the fun? People were talking about the long-awaited centenary of the Roaring Twenties and the impending so-called Hot Vax Summer. The hope was that after months of confinement and terror, we would once again be able to party and frolic, remove the elbow bump in favor of the full body hug, have a little fun. Ultimately, these proclamations were premature and an awkward misreading of the cultural moment. Shaking off mass death was not so easy. What followed was more like Trying-Our-Best Summer.
For some people, the pandemic has ended up altering the contours of their social lives in more permanent ways. Why go back to the pre-quarantine drudgery of blaring bars, endless poetry readings and awkward dinner parties? How about relaxing at home, maybe with a great friend? Wet Leg, the duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, make party music for grown-ups who are ready to hang on but are tired of being pinned down by a splitter near a supermarket hummus sweat tub , or having to jockey athletically to get a bartender’s eye, or spend seventy-five dollars hopping from club to club in a series of career taxis. It’s hard to think of a sentiment more relevant to our collective post-traumatic disillusionment than “It was so much fun / Now it all seems stupid / Wish I could care.” The line comes from “I Don’t Wanna Go Out,” a track from “Wet Leg,” the band’s long-awaited debut album, which is out this month.
Teasdale and Chambers are obviously having a great time making each other laugh, and anyone else’s enjoyment of their salty, nonchalant indie rock seems almost incidental. The duo met ten years ago at university on the Isle of Wight, and their easy rapport gives ‘Wet Leg’ a glorious levity. Although each has been involved in other musical endeavors, neither had had a full-time musical career until last year. (Chambers worked in her family’s jewelry store and Teasdale was a dress assistant.) According to the band’s tradition, they decided to start making music together as they pulled up on top of a ferris wheel, drunk. , and they only managed four gigs. before signing to Domino Records.
“Wet Leg” is a charming and addictive debut – ironic, melodic, joyful, clever and cool. Chambers plays lead guitar, Teasdale handles rhythm guitar, and they’re joined here by bassist Michael Champion, drummer Henry Holmes, and synthesizer and producer Dan Carey. Teasdale has a voice that can go from deep and teasing to dry and bored. When she thinks something is lame, she can wilt. On “Loving You,” Teasdale informs an ex, “I don’t wanna be friends / I don’t wanna have to pretend.” She sweetly adds, “I hope you’re choking on your girlfriend.” On “Angelica”, she laments the boredom of going out:
Much of “Wet Leg” addresses the mundanity of adulthood, and in particular the unsettling stretch between youth and middle age – from twenty-five to forty, say. (Teasdale is twenty-nine and Chambers is twenty-eight.) In the video for “Too Late Now”, Teasdale and Chambers stumble around in striped bathrobes with cucumber slices over their eyes. A montage brings together some of the most aesthetically unpleasant elements of modern life: cranes, a cigarette butt, Botox, trash dumped from an overloaded dumpster, graffiti wishing passers-by a shitty day, fluorescent lights , a pigeon. “I don’t know if that’s the kind of life I saw myself living,” Teasdale admits. A synth sounds like church bells. Though she never sounds particularly devastated, “Too Late Now” is Teasdale’s most tender and revealing vocal performance, and one of “Wet Leg’s” best and most dynamic songs. As children, we are often desperate to grow up, but it turns out that adulthood can be ugly and depressing. “I just need a bubble bath to set me on a higher path,” Teasdale intones darkly. I always hear the line as a deft skewer of the personal care industry and its goofy promises of transcendence – no amount of soaking, steaming, or combination of crystals can undo the realities of tax season, garbage day, and furniture assembly.
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Musically, Wet Leg makes prickly but playful post-punk that often sounds like a cross between the Pixies, Pavement and Garbage – all beloved mainstays of the 90s indie-rock scene – but the most obvious point of comparison is Dry Cleaning, another excellent new British band with funny and nonsensical lyrics. Both bands built a sizable following by releasing weird and seductive singles long before their debut albums. Wet Leg managed to sell out most of a US tour after releasing just two tracks. (“A big thank you to everyone who bought a ticket after hearing only two songs haha,” the group tweeted.) “Chaise Longue,” Wet Leg’s debut single, was released in June 2021. Initially , it reminded me of the Breeders’ “Cannonball”, an alternative rock hit from 1993, in that it was a song that I loved immediately and fiercely, it was weird and funny, it was centered over a rubbery guitar riff, and the lyrics and delivery (pale, vaguely sardonic, blissfully self-aware) reiterated the idea that rock music performed by women didn’t always have to be about heartbreak – it could also be fun , stylish, effortless. “Chaise Longue” opens, of course, with a dick joke:
Teasdale goes on to quote the movie “Mean Girls”: “Is your muffin buttered? Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?” – and to gently lure a potential suitor backstage: “I’ve got a deck chair in my dressing room / And a pack of hot beer we can consume.” (Teasdale loves deliberately terrible come-ons, and on the “Wet Dream” single, she sings, “Baby, do you want to come home with me / I got ‘Buffalo ’66’ on DVD.”) “Chaise Longue” was an instant hit, partly because it showed two women having fun – silly, decidedly laid-back – usually reserved for young men, but mostly because its singsong melody and loud, quiet, boisterous architecture made it so cheerful. for. Hot Vax Summer’s dream was cunning, and cruel, but Teasdale and Chambers offered a kind of carefree intimacy. (Sounds silly, but there’s a tremendous amount of unexpected closeness in a moment on “Chaise Longue” when Teasdale says, “Excuse me?”, and Chambers responds, “What?”)
Wet Leg encourages its listeners to briefly interrupt their never-ending worry and remember what it’s like to be awkward with your best friend for a few hours. Despite the endless heaviness of world events, there is still room for inanity; fun doesn’t always have to be indulgent, and art doesn’t have to be dark or humorless. In the fall, when Teasdale and Chambers were asked about the band’s name – “What does it mean to be a wet leg?” DJ Jill Riley wondered – they couldn’t stop laughing. “That’s a good question,” Chambers said. Teasdale added: “It really doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a reminder not to take yourself too seriously, because at the end of the day, you’re in a band called Wet Leg. ♦