What ON AN ON lack in clarity of vision they often make up for in studio perfectionism. The three-piece, formerly members of the dissolved Scattered Trees, are sonic sculpture specialists. They’re less a band with a specific message than three minds full of grand, exquisite 3D shapes and an urgent need to unleash them. On And the Wave Has Two Sides, they solidify their tendency to communicate more through tones and gestures than words, not unlike the phonetic difference between “on an on” and “on and on.”
At best, these shapes are magnificent things, substantial or curiously figured or both. An early shift into smooth, dance-inclined pop is the outstanding passage of the album, and side B opener “Wait for the Kill” would work in stadiums, even before abruptly one-upping itself with a coarse, last-minute drop into the low end. “You Were So Scared” is a bit flimsier, and scrambles to make up for this by throwing haymakers, coming on even stronger and more self-seriously. Unsubtle lyrics — “You begged me to run and I said, ‘Fuck you’/ I’ll love you ‘til I die if it kills me, honey” — don’t help its case, either.
There’s no denying that there’s a colossal level of feeling invested into And the Wave Has Two Sides. It’s just unclear where, exactly, those feelings are coming from, where they’re directed, what they should be achieving. Rarely, if ever, do ON AN ON deviate too far from the vaguely melancholic or passionately overzealous, and the band’s seeming refusal to consider having fun fences them in even more tightly. And the Wave Has Two Sides might functionally serve for constant, heady background atmosphere, but it won’t help in understanding what ON AN ON intend their music to stand for.
Essential Tracks: “Wait for the Kill”