The fourth full-length record from Atlanta’s Microwave is a trip. It all begins with the misty synth strikes and cosmic transmission warbles of “Portals,” before hazy, dripping-wet guitar chords settle in. The song, an adaptation of the traditional Christian hymn “Softly and Tenderly,” is true to its new name, as liminal and fleeting as it is gripping and emotional. It’s an enormous, gentle, enveloping introduction to what will be explored: life and death, happiness and freedom, the real and unreal. This is Let’s Start Degeneracy, the long-awaited new album from Microwave, releasing on April 26 via Pure Noise.
It’s an emo record, but perhaps only categorically speaking. It contains multitudes: ambient, pop, R&B, punk, and experimental sounds float in and out of one another as the record moves through scenes, experiences, and feelings, all of them rippling with a purity of intention and translation that mark the best artistic works of “psychedelia.” Vocalist/guitarist/producer Nathan Hardy, bassist Tyler Hill, and drummer Timothy Pittard have created something that resembles a concept record, but it’s the sort of concept that’s impossible to contain in just one phrase or word or sound.
The record’s title, taken from a conservative politician’s take on drugs in 1970, captures this liberated spirit. There are no rules, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. “It’s about letting go of attachments and behaviors that aren’t serving you, and trying to shake off your programming and not be motivated by fear and guilt and shame,” says Hardy.
Microwave wrote the songs for Let’s Start Degeneracy over a four-year period beginning in 2019, going through waves of static then bursts of energy. They recorded the bulk of it in Hardy’s Atlanta apartment, where they spent plenty of time rummaging through samples, effects, and plugins to augment, distort, and tweak the soundscapes on the record. Drums and additional layers were laid down in Nashville with Jeremy Ferguson, and in East Point, Georgia with Travis Hill. Josh Wilbur (Korn, Bad Religion) mixed, and Brad Blackwood (Maroon 5, Lamb of God) mastered.
“Circling the Drain” was the first taste of this new era, released in April 2022. It’s more classic Microwave: clean guitar chords emerge from a cloud of exhaled breath, and the song slowly builds to cavernous depths and tidal heaviness with gorgeous, gritty production flourishes. Two others, the swimming, synth-driven “Ferrari” and the bright, stoned summer strummer “Straw Hat,” have since been released, expanding the borders of the band’s playing field.
The title track is where things really start to get weird. Over a psychotropic beat that Hardy stitched together, a synth sub bass throbs throughout and the vocals wander through an existential plane. By the time the streaking, brain-bloom guitar bends hit after the first chorus, we’re already well and happily lost in some other dimension, each texture and sound a delicious new sensation. The piano-led “Huperzine Dreams,” unravels over philosophical commentary with a nod to Huperzine-A, the naturally-derived supplement that some people use to facilitate lucid dreaming. “That’s one of the wide variety of nü-tropic supplements that Tito and I have been experimenting with over the last several years,” says Hardy.
As far as they explore, Microwave are never far from their roots though. “Bored of Being Sad” is a Much Love-era demo that Hardy revisited over the years until it reached its final form here. It’s a perfect slice of what people have come to love and expect from the band: anthemic and guitar-forward, a perfect chemical balance between emo and pop-punk.
From start to finish, Let’s Start Degeneracy marks a liberated new chapter for Microwave, one unbound by realities other than their own.
Let’s Start Degeneracy, the long-awaited fourth full-length record from Microwave, i.
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