A Will Away – ‘Stew’

By Sean Reid

For 10 years, Connecticut rockers A Will Away have become reliable for making thoughtful songs, yet they have somehow never had that breakthrough moment. Over the course of a few albums and EPs, the quartet have carved out a well-rounded brand of Americana rock, embracing elements of rock, pop, and alternative along the way.

At face value, their third full-length, ‘Stew’, continues this pattern. The 11 tracks on offer drift in and out in three minute waves (or thereabouts), aiming to paint a narrative of the importance of all human interactions, no matter how trivial they might be. From failed credit card transactions to needing a sweater, to having a “good headache”, the quartet’s train of thought is clearly relatable, yet is occasionally clouded in metaphors.

Nevertheless, ‘Stew’ is musically cohesive. Early tracks ‘Karma’ and ‘I’ve Got Five’ are executed with warmth and heart with the former having abundance of energy with a scorching guitar solo thrown in for good measure. ‘I’ve Got Five’, on the other hand, is restrained, steadily building with pluckiness and subtle depth. The woozy haze of ‘Splittin’ Chiclets’ sandwiched in-between, its laid back tempo softly rides a wave of “ooh”’s, putting Matt Carlson’s vocals at the forefront.

Later on, ‘Matchstick’ and ‘Montezuma Blue’ comfortably fit the Americana mould. The latter has twanging acoustics supporting Matt Carlson’s rousing melody, while ‘Matchstick’ celebrates American radio rock ‘n’ roll with soaring vocals, underpinned by the band’s familiar hazy lyrical thought process; “You’d spin your head if you knew who I was / Bagged feet, and an acid tongue”. Furthermore, ‘Hereditary’ provides a steady halfway point with stirring guitars, highlighting AWA’s harmonic strength.

For the most part, ‘Stew’ blossoms in its warm musical solace, however its downfall comes from a lack of distinct memorable moments. Although musically sturdy, the album lacks notable hooks. Thankfully, the aforementioned ‘I’ve Got Five’ along with the Weezer-esque ‘Re-Up’ help this cause an elevate the record in its entirety.

One asset that A Will Away does have is Matt Carlson’s distinguishable vocals. Throughout, he carries tracks with his harmonious, North West twang. The penultimate track, ‘Speechless’, for example,  simply begins with a dwindling acoustic and Carlson’s voice gradually builds to a resonating conclusion. It’s one of ‘Stew’s most satisfying moments, honing in on a comforting and astute tone that threads the album together. This is followed by ‘Rubbed Out’, a tender finale complemented by succulent brass instrumentation and Carlson’s impassioned voice.

It’s clear AWA have matured, moving away from the hook-laden, emo-rock of their earlier work towards a more carefree approach. Unfortunately ‘Stew’ suffers from one too many fleeting moments that come and go with little effect. Although their flashes of meaningful moments (such as ‘Re-Up’, ‘Karma’, and ‘Hereditary’), ‘Stew’ ultimately fails to leave a lasting impression. Nevertheless, its value comes from A Will Away’s confident musical poise. Throughout there is an assured approach that embraces a warm, heartfelt musical approach and while this won’t be A Will Away’s breakthrough moment, ‘Stew’ is merely a stepping stone to becoming a refined rock band.

SÊAN REID

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