Album Review: The Things We Do by Washers
This review was originally published in Dust-Up Magazine on August 4, 2017.
I’d like to say listening to The Things We Do feels like going home for my musical heart. It’s rooted in the spirit of ’80s college rock at a time when the genre made the transition into the expansive world of “indie,” while also evoking memories of first wave punk legends. But it’s also so much more than just “going home.” It’s energizing. It’s stirring. It’s exhilarating. As the record unfolds, it makes yesterday feel like today, showing the timeless heart of rock music in the process.
This is clear from the start of the record with the opening track, “Drawing Me In,” providing that timeless ’80s guitar jaunt, as well as the singalong beauty that made The Ramones’ debut record so unavoidably great. The backing vocals may as well been lifted from a lost Joey & Dee Dee tracking session, and the melodically tense, drawn out title lyric is undeniably Ramone-esque. But there’s a way they make these pogo vocals and the start-stop song structure feel modern too, with propulsive energy fueling their entwining contraption.
We get more college rock flair over the first half of the record with “Why Can’t I Lie?” and “Go Go Go,” each showcasing Washer’s bouncy joy and murky concessions, something that feels like an expert cross between The Housemartins and Hoodoo Gurus. The punk comes roaring back in the second half of the record though, specifically on songs like “John From Cincinnati,” “Breather,” and “Home,” which opens with a “Hammersmith Palais” bombast that faithfully embodies the unrest and vigor of punk music.
I’m reminded of what Joe Strummer said about that song too. “We were a big fat riff band. We weren’t supposed to do something like that,” he said in Westway To The World. That sentiment comes out in their songs, like in the way the chorus of “John From Cincinnati” rubs against the push-and-pull guitar riff, used more as filler rather than the substance. “Square Peg” feels similar yet in the opposite way, as it starts off with that lightly-tinged guitar line — something that could have made its way onto C86 with a lo-fi filter — before devolving into those heavy, thick power chords, making the song rock instead of float during the chorus. It doesn’t seem like they’re supposed to do these things, but the result is certainly remarkable.
One foot in first wave punk, the other in college rock, and head well-rooted in modern sounds. That’s pretty much the mantra to Washer’s music, something that stunningly manifests itself on the title track. From the moment it begins, “Work / The Things We Do” feels special. The twiddling guitar line turns into a thunderous stop-and-start verse, while the lyrics bemoan the pressure of life. The chorus splits off into an inner argument, with one yelling over the other, before each focusing their anger and anxiety on one thing.
“Work, work work,” the song protests, but not in the lazy malaise that doesn’t serve a functioning society. Instead, this song seems to highlight the hyper-expectations of modern life, where it’s a daily trek down the tight-rope, juggling one thing after the other while an elderly crowd heckles you for being a millennial loaf. In a way, this feeling isn’t new, but the way it embodies a generation is. So while a band like The Clash or The Replacements could have sung about this in 1979 or 1989, its reach would have been limited. Here, Washer’s have a song that pretty much anyone in their 20s or 30s can relate to, making the phrase “generational anthem” seem not too farfetched when extolling this chugging, edifying rock song.
This debut from Washers is definitely special, not just because they’ve made such a modern representation of generative styles, but also for the fact that they’ve delivered a record devoid of filler or let-downs. Every song excels here, all for different reasons too, even if they’re grounded in that modern college-punk space. There’s ample difference between songs like “Go Go Go” and “Square Peg,” but it’s more how unified Washers are in performing them that shows off the strength of The Things We Do. This record can invite you in with familiar sounds and make you feel right at home, but once inside, the fervor and vitality of Washers will truly galvanize you and make you ready for each and every day, doing all those things you do.