BAND: Wellsaid (Hong Kong)
RELEASE: Apart (2019)
LABEL: Sweaty & Cramped
REVIEWER: Arthur Urquiola
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When Wellsaid released their first EP ‘Setbacks’ in 2017 it was striking just how quickly the band was working. They had come together less than a year earlier and it felt like their first introduction to the world, in the form of two professionally shot performance videos, had only just surfaced online. Heck, by the time the EP was released the band had a bona fide live favourite in ‘Narrow Pass’ and had gone through its first lineup change. Regardless, ‘Setbacks’ was the sound of a band that started with purpose, with focus and a clear idea of what it wanted to be.
It could be argued that in hindsight, the band’s formation and the EP’s release happened at a serendipitous time. The concept of an “Emo revival” was taking shape across music scenes the world over and ‘Setbacks’ was a solid early document of what Asian bands could offer. Singer and guitarist Lok’s tireless efforts through his label and distro Sweaty & Cramped connected Wellsaid with like-minded Indie Rock acts in the region and the band has since shared stages with everyone from Forests, to Worst Gift, to Tiny Moving Parts.
But for a band that rode such a wave of momentum, Wellsaid’s first full-length ‘Apart’ comes more than a year after they first went into the studio with Jay Tse to begin tracking. A band that works as quickly as Wellsaid does can do a lot of growing in that time. Luckily, ‘Apart’ is less a snapshot of who the band was and there’s some real maturing to be heard as the songs progress.
‘Spilling My Guts’ opens with the kind of trilled licks comparable to Wellsaid’s previous work and is even the kind of riffage that was a staple for Lok’s previous trio Emptybottles. The track has long been a fixture of Wellsaid’s live sets and was even released last year to tease what the band was working on. While it doesn’t charge out the gate the same way ‘Narrow Pass’ did, it opens the record with an upbeat bounce and a killer chorus before an abrupt end stops it from overstaying its welcome.
But the changes that Wellsaid underwent while in the studio really become apparent as ‘Driver’s Seat’ kicks in. There’s a darker tone in the lyrics and rhythmically the tune swings, but stops just short of swaying. This could be the result of drummer Latif, who plays with a laid-back smoothness compared to the pneumatic dexterity of his predecessor Sung. The track also features the LP’s first guest spot from the enigmatically named 611, who adds her lilting falsetto to the song’s chorus and an airy swoon that soars above a bass-heavy bridge as it crescendos behind her.
A gutsy shout marks the transition between ‘Driver’s Seat’ and ‘Devotion’ – an acoustic ballad and another first for a Wellsaid recording. It’s a poignant tune carried largely by Lok’s voice going note-for-note with his guitar playing.
At first, it might come across as a curious choice of sequencing to drop such a gentle acoustic work early on a record, but ‘Apart’ is a record of contrasts and a collection of tunes that showcase what Wellsaid is now capable of following tours, festival appearances and frequent gigs throughout last year. ‘Rest My Head’ could have had a place on the last ep but would have been an easy highlight. Lok pushes his vocals throughout the track, at points going into a full-on scream over stabbing rhythms and Dixon’s rolling basslines.
Much of the latter half of ‘Apart’ carries a certain breeziness, but there’s enough dynamic, bite and rhythmic shifts to stop the record descending into Yacht Rock or any murky dirges. ‘Poison in My Blood’ is another upbeat number that’s more Hey Mercedes than Braid before it reaches a hard-hitting instrumental passage that ends the song in dramatic fashion.
And there’s more surprises in the penultimate tune ‘Mileage May Vary’, which begins as a rollicking instrumental before a short vocal passage three-quarters of the way through makes way for Death To Giants/MEATS multi-instrumentalist Ming Nichols’, whose performance on trombone elevates the track’s cathartic release.
Nine songs as opposed to an even 10 and stopping just short of 30 minutes could trigger some heavy OCD in some. But as the record concludes with another Owenesque acoustic song ‘We Long for Things’, ‘Apart’ stands as a document of Wellsaid’s transition from a band made up of fans of classic American Emo, who throw in tasteful slivers of Math Rock riffs and rhythms, to a wholly unique Indie Rock act with some serious chops, ambition and imagination.
Aside from finding their own voice, Wellsaid has achieved a fearlessness for following a song idea to the fullest extent of what it’s capable of being shaped into. The individual musicians still have their tendencies and ‘Apart’ works as a cohesive and consistent whole. But it’s less about an overall sound and more of an overall balance made up of inspired performances and songs each memorable in their own way.