The Glorious Lightness of Wet Leg’s Rock (2024)

For a brief moment last spring, when securing a vaccination appointment no longer felt like winning some sort of lunatic lottery, and Covid-19 cases had convincingly, if temporarily, receded, it seemed as though Americans were collectively poised for a grand return to pleasure. Remember pleasure? People were talking about the much anticipated centennial of the Roaring Twenties, and about the imminence of a so-called Hot Vax Summer. The hope was that, after months of confinement and terror, we might carouse and frolic again, retire the elbow bump in favor of the full-body embrace, have a little fun. In the end, those proclamations were premature, and a clumsy misreading of the cultural moment. Shaking off mass death wasn’t so easy. What followed was more like Trying-Our-Best Summer.

For some people, the pandemic ended up changing the contours of their social lives in a more permanent way. Why return to the pre-quarantine slog of deafening bars, interminable poetry readings, and awkward dinner parties? What about cutting loose at home, maybe with one excellent friend over? Wet Leg, the duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, makes party music for adults who are down to hang but are tired of getting cornered by an oversharer near a sweating tub of supermarket hummus, or having to athletically jockey for a bartender’s attention, or spending seventy-five dollars moving from club to club in a series of careering taxicabs. It’s hard to think of a sentiment more germane to our collective, post-traumatic disillusionment than “It used to be so fun/Now everything just feels dumb/I wish I could care.” The line comes from “I Don’t Wanna Go Out,” a track on “Wet Leg,” the band’s long-awaited first album, which is being released this month.

Teasdale and Chambers are plainly having a very good time making each other laugh, and anyone else’s enjoyment of their salty, lackadaisical indie rock feels almost incidental. The duo met a decade ago, in college, on the Isle of Wight, and their easy rapport gives “Wet Leg” a glorious lightness. Though each had been involved with other musical projects, neither had a full-time music career before last year. (Chambers was working in her family’s jewelry store, and Teasdale was a wardrobe assistant.) According to band lore, they decided to start making music together while paused at the top of a Ferris wheel, drunk, and they made it through just four gigs before signing to Domino Records.

“Wet Leg” is a charming, addictive début—wry, melodic, gleeful, smart, and cool. Chambers plays lead guitar, Teasdale handles rhythm guitar, and they are backed here by the bassist Michael Champion, the drummer Henry Holmes, and the synth player and producer Dan Carey. Teasdale has a voice that can swing from deep and teasing to dry and laden with ennui. When she thinks something is lame, she can be withering. On “Loving You,” Teasdale informs an ex, “I don’t want to have to be friends/I don’t want to have to pretend.” She sweetly adds, “I hope you choke on your girlfriend.” On “Angelica,” she laments the tedium of going out:

But I don’t wanna follow you on the ’gram
I don’t wanna listen to your band
I don’t know why I haven’t left yet
Don’t want none of this.

Much of “Wet Leg” addresses the banality of adulthood, and particularly the discombobulating stretch between youth and middle age—from twenty-five to forty, say. (Teasdale is twenty-nine and Chambers is twenty-eight.) In the video for “Too Late Now,” Teasdale and Chambers stumble around in striped bathrobes with cucumber slices over their eyes. A montage gathers some of the more aesthetically unpleasant elements of modern life: cranes, a cigarette butt, Botox, trash spilling from an overstuffed dumpster, graffiti wishing passersby a sh*t day, fluorescent lights, a pigeon. “I’m not sure if this is the kinda life that I saw myself living,” Teasdale admits. A synthesizer rings out like church bells. Though she never sounds especially devastated, “Too Late Now” is Teasdale’s most tender and revealing vocal performance, and one of the best and most dynamic songs on “Wet Leg.” As children, we’re often desperate to grow up, yet it turns out that adulthood can be ugly and depressing. “I just need a bubble bath to set me on a higher path,” Teasdale intones grimly. I always hear the line as an adroit skewering of the self-care industry and its goofy promises of transcendence—no soak or steam or combination of crystals can undo the realities of tax season, garbage day, and furniture assembly.

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Musically, Wet Leg makes prickly but playful post-punk that often sounds like a cross between the Pixies, Pavement, and Garbage—all beloved stalwarts of the nineties indie-rock scene—but the most obvious point of comparison is Dry Cleaning, another excellent new British band with droll, absurdist lyrics. Both groups built significant followings by putting out weird, enticing singles far in advance of their first albums. Wet Leg managed to sell out most of a U.S. tour after releasing just two tracks. (“Big thank you to everyone that’s bought a ticket after having only heard two songs haha,” the band tweeted.) “Chaise Longue,” Wet Leg’s first single, appeared in June of 2021. Initially, it reminded me of the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” an alt-rock hit from 1993, insofar as it was a song I liked immediately and ferociously, it was bizarre and funny, it was centered on a rubbery guitar riff, and both the lyrics and the delivery (wan, vaguely sardonic, perfectly knowing) reiterated the idea that rock music performed by women did not always have to be concerned with heartbreak—it could also be jokey, stylized, effortless. “Chaise Longue” opens, of course, with a dick joke:

Mummy, Daddy, look at me
I went to school and I got a degree
All my friends call it the big D
I went to school and I got the big D.

Teasdale goes on to quote the film “Mean Girls”—“Is your muffin buttered? Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?”—and to gently entice a potential suitor backstage: “I’ve got a chaise longue in my dressing room/And a pack of warm beer that we can consume.” (Teasdale is fond of purposefully terrible come-ons, and on the single “Wet Dream” she sings, “Baby, do you wanna come home with me/I got ‘Buffalo ’66’ on DVD.”) “Chaise Longue” was an instant hit, in part because it showed two women having the sort of fun—dumb, resolutely laid-back—typically reserved for young men, but mostly because its barrelling melody and loud-quiet-loud architecture made it so joyful to holler along to. The dream of Hot Vax Summer was a ruse, and a cruel one, but Teasdale and Chambers were offering a kind of carefree intimacy. (It sounds silly, but there’s a huge amount of unexpected closeness in a moment on “Chaise Longue” when Teasdale says, “Excuse me?,” and Chambers answers, “What?”)

Wet Leg encourages its listeners to briefly pause their endless fretting and remember what it feels like to be goofy with your best friend for a few hours. Despite the unending heaviness of world events, there is still room for inanity; delight doesn’t always need to feel indulgent, and art doesn’t need to be sombre or humorless. In the fall, when Teasdale and Chambers were asked about the band’s name—“What does it mean to be a wet leg?” the d.j. Jill Riley wondered—they couldn’t stop giggling. “That’s a nice question,” Chambers said. Teasdale added, “It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just a reminder to not take yourself too seriously, because, at the end of the day, you’re in a band called Wet Leg.”♦

The Glorious Lightness of Wet Leg’s Rock (2024)

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