The May 24 release of Wallows’ latest record, Model, might have left fans with mixed emotions. After knocking down industry doors with their 2017 breakout single “Pleaser,” the band released their debut album Nothing Happens in 2019, which featured the hit track “Are You Bored Yet?” The song launched them into two–hit wonder and pop stardom status, and the band quickly became recognized for their distinct nostalgia–infused summer tunes. Their highly anticipated 2022 sophomore album, Tell Me That It’s Over, was a clear deviation from the alt–rock genre that they were so attuned to—replete with unexpected sonic textures and a grungy garage–rock feel—but was still well–received by fans.

Model is a return to Wallows’ iconic sound—the cozy alt–rock hymns that have become the band’s trademark genre. The dynamic trio, consisting of frontman Dylan Minnette (famously known for his role as Clay Jensen in 13 Reasons Why), lead guitarist Braeden Lemasters, and drummer Cole Preston, produced 25 songs in merely seven weeks for the album, though only 12 of them made the cut. “We let go of these pressures of what all the powers that be around us want from us and just ended up focusing on what we do and what we wanted, and it resulted in an album that very much came us,” Minnette told Rolling Stone.

The album cover, featuring a room with a glossy leather couch, plaid armchair, and bright lamp, invites listeners into the lead single, “Your Apartment.” The lyrics foretell the main themes of the album: intense yearning, ephemeral love, and tricky relationships. Minnette’s voice softly slips in and out of the soundscape—bright like a lighthouse in one moment and drowned out by daring drums and groovy guitars in the next. He sings of causing and feeling hurt—of the apartment, which perpetuates cycles of emotional violence: “It was never right / I think you know now / There’s a lot of things that I could tell you / But some things are left better if you never knew.”

Though the lead single is strong, the second track, “Anytime, Always,” is anything but. Lyrical variety is sparse; the line “You can call me anytime, always,” melodically renders itself over and over again but fails to resonate emotionally. It’s lackluster in originality but paves a smooth road for “Calling After Me,” which, from the entire album, is unparalleled in its grooviness. Forget about heartbreaking relationships and long–lost lovers. Minnette sings about an entirely new relationship where he details all the raunchy things he would say to his lover but doesn’t have the guts to: “Don’t play dumb, I know you fantasize / You could have mе on my back every night.” 

Just when it couldn’t get any spicier, it does. “Bad Dream” marks the entry of Lemasters’ sultry solo singing. The background instruments are mute and mellow, mirroring the hazy perimeters of a dream and conflating with Lemasters’ voice into one swaying body of sound. Like “Your Apartment,” the song conveys similar themes of poor communication and misunderstanding: “Here we go again, tell me what’s been left unsaid / I’m not in your head, can you help me understand?” 

Though the first half of the album is, for the most part, stereotypical Wallows goodness, some songs aren’t melodically memorable. “A Warning” and “I Wouldn’t Mind” are slow and melancholic; there’s nothing wrong with that, but they sound similar to café lo–fi music, falling flat in production.

What Wallows does do well is weaving thematic consonance into the album. “You (Show Me Where My Days Went)” is complemented by sunny sounds and fuzzy nostalgia, discussing the struggles of missing someone from the past. It’s a callback to “Calling After Me,” inversely mirroring the song; rather than singing of the thrills of being chased, Minnette is surprisingly confessional about wanting to love someone else: “But know that I’m waiting over here / Ready when you are / We can take it far.” In “Canada,” Minnette falls in love with this “you” all over again, with romantic undertones accompanied by ballads of softness and gentleness: “It's just something about you / All the things that you do / Make me see the end through.”

The final few songs of the album fail to leave any deep impressions. Again, Wallows overcommits to repetition. “She’s An Actress"—though lyrically haunting with lines such as “Hold your gaze on me and I feel like I’m dreaming / I looked up to you above me / Said it’s difficult to not say that you love me”—has a bizarre musical atmosphere that sounds haphazardly thrown together rather than intricately planned out. The song has no chorus or climax, generating a feeling of disjointedness.

However, despite its flaws, Model might be Wallows’ way of conveying that even the best models have imperfections. After all, Model is what the band currently feels is the most accurate representation of the type of music they produce: “It resulted in a very honest and authentic album from us. It’s perfectly imperfect,” Preston said. With this album, the band seems to have finally let go of their anxious tendencies to people–please. Full of comfort and familiarity, Model shows that returning to our past selves may be a worthwhile journey after all.