It’s inevitable that your favorite bands will eventually release an album that challenges you in some way. Georgia band Microwave’s newest release, Death is a Warm Blanket, is certainly one of those albums for me.
Their 2016 LP, Much Love, a heartrending thirty minutes of beautifully written and arranged tracks lamenting the complexities of love, metal health, and crises of faith, made quick work of cementing its place on my all time favorites list. This is partially due to the machinations of main vocalist Nathan Hardy, whose incredible voice finds the perfect balance between raw and tender with deceptive ease. One of Much Love’s trademarks is songs that switch gears halfway through, with ambling, lullaby-like melodies that devolve into vocal stylings one would expect to hear on a full-blown emo album.
On Death is a Warm Blanket, Hardy and his bandmates Tyler Hill (bass), Timothy Pittard (drums), and Wesley Swanson (guitar) have certainly not abandoned their love for frequent tonal shifts, but instead have decided to lean more heavily into their propensity for discordant sounds, throat-shredding vocals, and couch-tipping despair.
Write off all of your old friends, advises Hardy on album standout “Hate TKO.” Tolerance is a well-swept path to hell. Something I’ve always loved about Microwave is that not only can they deliver a gut-twister of a line about romantic relationships (see: Cause I’m not yours/no, that’s not right/I’m just a novelty you’re toying with to complicate your life from Much Love’s “Whimper”) they can deliver equally heartrending lines about the complexities of friendship, or, worse, your relationship with yourself.
Considering that my relationship with Microwave so far has been one of tunnel-minded infatuation with Much Love, Death is a Warm Blanket required some adjustment on my part. The band’s writing prowess is still undeniable, but upon the first few listens of Death it was hard for me, as someone who does not gravitate towards emo/post-emo and hardcore music, to connect as immediately with the new songs.
Despite this, a few weeks out from release, I have had a love affair with almost every song on Death is a Warm Blanket, always a good sign for an album’s potential staying power. Of course there are those albums you experience like a burr in a blanket, the ones that enjoy repeat plays for weeks, months, even years, but it take a special succession of episodic experiences for an album to stick with you for the long haul, a knot tied tight in the tapestry of your musical life.
Unlike Much Love, Death is a Warm Blanket is not a easy listen. Microwave still pays close attention to the transitions between songs — the one between “Pull” and “Love’s Will Tear Us Apart” is so imperceptible as to almost seem like an accident — but there is no one and nothing to blame for the lack of ease other than the plain fact that this album choking with disappointment. I think it’s too easy to say that an album with one hand gripped firmly around the emo moon landing flag is “angry.” Anger, to me, implies a baselessness, a throw-it-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks attitude, like the punks of yore punching down with reckless abandon, using the guise of rebellion to hide the fact that they’ve got their heads as far up their ass as the rest of us.
There is nothing baseless about the disappointment and exhaustion that coat this album. There is certainly a level of theatricality — the Frankensteinian townspeople metaphor in “Hate TKO” comes to mind, as well as the fact that they opened the album with a song called “Leather Daddy” — but the title song really distills the album down to its discomforting essence with a single line. I really needed a blanket/I didn’t know how to ask, Hardy sings on “DIAWB,” his voice distorted to near-intelligibility. It’s lines like this that keeps me coming back, even if I have to plunge a pickax through the arrangements to find them. Somehow, this line manages to feel both far-flung and claustrophobic, this small horror of navigating adult life: I didn’t know how to ask.
It’s not all wolflike screams and shaking fists at the sky, however. At turns beautiful, at turns grating, “Pull” begins with a haunting, lantern-light melody that sounds like Hardy is chastising someone for not letting him go while standing in their doorway. I secretly would kill for a fully acoustic version of this song (I literally had a dream about it) but have come to accept the plunge into crunchy guitars and screams that happens seconds after Hardy half-whispers I can’t do this again.
“Hate TKO” (See R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass’s 1980 hit “Love T.K.O.” for likely title inspiration, T.K.O. meaning “Technical Knock Out”) also slides into a moment of strange softness — or, at least, a softness reminiscent of submersing yourself in white noise a la Eleven from Stranger Things — as a childlike, accented voice reminds us that we have an endless supply of love within us for anything we choose.
Album closer “Part of It” is a bit of a sleeper hit, tonally similar to their earliest work in the sense that Hardy has found himself perched between the false promise of religion and the dark pit of believing in nothing, still certain the latter is the lesser of two evils, but still pretty unhappy about it. In a perfect world I don’t think I would sing/my voice would shrink in peaceful atrophy, he muses, a killer line that genuinely pissed me off the first time I heard it, because I’m almost sure I’ll never write anything that good.
While only time can determine if Death is a Warm Blanket will stitch itself into my musical tapestry the way Much Love so confidently did, I know that I’m in it for the long haul with this band. If I wasn’t willing to challenge my musical taste at all, I probably would never have taken the steps that led me to discover Microwave in the first place. And that would be ever so much further away from that perfect world.
Microwave is on tour now. Follow them on Facebook for ongoing updates.