Circa Waves, a British indie pop band patterned with the same quirk as quartets like Peace and The Wombats, is cinematic. They make they kind of music for a movie montage—upbeat, breezy, and tinged with a bit of spunk. Hits like “T–Shirt Weather” and “Wake Up” could easily slot themselves in the background of a Nicholas Sparks film, swirling around some couple as they kiss on beaches and in convertibles and next to bonfires. Their third album, What’s It Like Over There?, offers much of the same. It’s the essence of summer distilled in a record, only this summer is a lot more tumultuous.
The album opens with “Sorry I’m Yours,” a tune about a totalizing relationship set to a pulsating bass that sounds awfully similar to a heartbeat. Like the rest of their discography, it feels like summer, but not the kind coated in sunshine. With hard drums and a chorus verging on a scream, “Sorry I’m Yours” connotes humidity, thunderstorms, and sweat. And while different from Circa Waves’ sun–drenched sounds, it imbues the album with a newfound, and welcome, heady energy.
This tension builds in “Times Won’t Change Me,” which sounds like the moody younger sibling of the Black Keys’ now iconic “Lonely Boy.” Bits of piano are interspersed between hard–hitting verses, giving the song a jazzy undertone. On its face, “Times Won’t Change Me” is just another mid–tempo alternative song moaning about society and its inevitable descent into shit. But, as listen after listen proves, it gets under your skin like an incantation, serving as a constant reminder to be the fullest version of yourself, even as the world changes and crumbles.
Songs like that enable What’s It Like Over There? to do the unthinkable—use cynicism to push positivity. “Me, Myself, and Hollywood,” a slinky tune that sits in the middle of the album, manipulates an age–old music trope—that being famous makes dating, like, so hard—to purvey a refreshing message of self–fulfillment. Meanwhile, “Motorcade,” reminiscent of groovy 70's rock complete with a searing guitar solo, echoes every human worry. It croons of insecurity, self doubt and every ex that we want back, but it also reminds listeners to act with purpose and unfettered emotion.
With those sentiments, What’s It Like Over There? isn’t that much different than any other Circa Waves’ release. It’s still optimistic alternative–pop, only this time the bliss is buried under the kind of beats meant for angry workouts and frustrated study sessions. It’s secretly motivational, and paints a more realistic soundscape of summer—one that’s full of complicated emotions and fleeting memories.
That said, the album isn’t wholly angsty. “Movies” is updated 80's guilty pleasure pop, witty enough to unabashedly accept that it's cliche. It is chock full of movie references and images of effortless summer romance, and while not inventive enough to be an anthem, it slots perfectly into a road trip playlist. “The Way We Say Goodbye” crescendos with enough energy to burst like a balloon in the chorus. It’s the kind of song that doesn’t ask for much, and washes over listeners like a summer storm.
Admittedly, What's It Like Over There? isn't an album that reinvents the wheel. The lyrics are standard indie, either saccharine and happy or plain depressing, and the production sounds of rejected Arctic Monkeys demos at times. But, the album does cement Circa Waves as a band that transcends seasons, soundtracking not just the summer, but all the moments in between. It's necessary for the band, if uneventful for the genre as a whole.