Wet Hair, featuring the trio of drummer/keyboardist Ryan Garbes, vocalist/keyboardist Shawn Reed, and bassist/guitarist Matt Fenner, call Iowa City home, and though the city is certainly not a hotbed of strange music, that isolation has produced work that has attracted the attention of labels like Not Not Fun (2009’s Dream and Glass Fountain) and Night-People (Wet Hair/Naked on the Vague split). Following a slew of cassettes and small-run releases over a few years’ existence, In Vogue Spirit is their latest album and first for De Stijl, its eight tracks generally eschewing the testy sensibility that their previous electro-slop grooves evinced. Relying on analog sources for a dry instrumental approach, their work straddles the line between Yankee-Kosmische outfits like the Silver Apples or Fifty Foot Hose, as well as the confrontational duo abstraction of De Stijl favorites 39 Clocks and Suicide (Wet Hair even co-opted the cover art of Suicide’s debut for their Myspace imagery).
The Neu!/Silver Apples axis is most present on the opening “Echo Lady,” a crackling guitar-bass-drums power trio augmented by burbling keyboards, ricocheting whir, and muffled vocal twang, as though delivered by someone weaned on both motorik and Midwestern rock. Meaty bass and drums underneath remind one of the production values Dave Fridmann applied to rhythm sections in the flowering early 1990s, when The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev were beginning their respective jags. Reed’s vocals scrape against the ceiling on a broken new wave nugget in “The Garden Room,” a clear example of the group’s pop sensibility, coupling heaving bass lines and chortling Moog. “Liquid Jesus” begins with the loose orbit of electric organ, feedback, and vibrating synth chords, gradually joining in a collective analog swirl before the rhythm kicks in and shoves the piece toward a rollicking post-rock jitter, Reed’s flat whine set in tweaked relief to the whole.
“Tarantula” is absolutely infectious, slightly buried vocal chants commenting on pulsing keyboards, gauzy fills, and a Tim Wright-esque funk, all of which echo a Lower East Side dreamtime rather than the closing-hour bathrooms at Gabe’s. The loping bass line and ratty backbeat of “Fade Til Morning” make the track almost seem like an outtake from Clouds Taste Metallic despite supporting a world-weary sigh, shifting into something more anthemic at the halfway point and closing on a winsome, spacey drift. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with calling to mind reference points; Wet Hair amalgamates a number of synth-rock strains from disparate angles, all of which are decidedly interesting and frequently go well together. One would be hard pressed to call this music “unoriginal,” but at the same time, a certain amount of its strength is derived from nuanced appropriation. Nevertheless, as far as accessibly weird records go, In Vogue Spirit is a tasty and ambitious nugget from these North Central upstarts.