Written by Travis Shosa
After spending his teen years in Seattle, 2020 saw Elijah Crissinger, the sole creative force behind That Hideous Sound, pack up and move to the opposite corner of the northern United States: Portland, Maine. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly wrote, produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered his debut self-titled EP, which saw release on the local label Repeating Cloud. Isolation and the resulting ennui have left an indelible mark on Crissinger’s lo-fi garage pop project, whose entire young lifespan coincides with a time when connection and action are more complicated by cultural circumstances. As evidenced by his lyrics and DIY methodology, Crissinger’s naturally a loner. On Wasted Life, he wrestles with the dueling emotions that solitude, chosen or not, can inspire.
It begins with a persistent throbbing, or perhaps a pulse: opener “Funny Insides” lays out a simple rhythm upon which Crissinger steadily introduces additional instrumentation and melodies. After the intro, fuzzy chords ring out as punctuation over the skeletal riff and rudimentary drums; the second verse stacks shakers until the noisier guitar bit inevitably fills in its patches and blankets the song in its own fully formed, cacophonous melody. Crissinger’s vocals bounce back and forth frenetically, demanding “show me” about the titular insides. There are prevailing themes of emergence, exposure, and rebirth across Wasted Life. “Love your funny insides / Love me do / Jump into the water / And come out new,” he sings, comparing the process of opening up to baptism.
Many of the album’s best tracks seek to embody these principles beyond their lyrics, beginning as humble caterpillars before bursting from their cocoons transformed. The longest song on the album at nearly five minutes–“I Feel Better”–bobs through its beginning with spare gossamer keys and rattling tambourine, complementing a gently buzzing guitar melody. An ear-splitting burst of noise shatters the tranquility just over two minutes in, signaling a maelstrom of pedal effects and cymbal crashes. The storm subsides in time, and the pieces reassemble, but they take on a new shape: amalgamated into a Frankenstein’s monster of bluesy psychedelia.
Another standout, “Paved,” treads a crunchy stomp as Crissinger’s voice oscillates through a cracked country whine. Eventually, it transforms into a cut of harshly textured noise pop at war with a speckless synth-pop anthem: it sounds like a lost demo from the Return of the Rentals sessions. Meanwhile, closer “Pleasant Street” starts as a stripped-down and dejected blues ballad that’d feel at home on The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers before indulging in some shoegaze-y reverb.
Other tracks may not be as bold, but most contain an appealing quality that adds some flavor to the solid songcraft. The tight simplicity and glam falsetto coos of “I know, I know” recall Marc Bolan’s T. Rex on “I Know Why.” Crissinger’s nasally cadence and exhausted melodies on “Kama” imagine a world where Nirvana got more into synthesizers. “Online” is a gloomy tale of inaction and disconnection whose watery consistency lends a sense of drowning in one’s indecision. While “Blinded By Light” might struggle to distinguish itself from its peers, “Judgement” is the only readily apparent misfire: a two-minute exercise in stagnant lethargy whose lack of momentum or shifts ensures that it plods rather than soars.
Some regular trappings of modern garage rock are here: most prevalent being the insistences of “I don’t care” that so often tumble from Crissinger’s mouth. But he does. It’s evident in how carefully labored the layering of Wasted Life is. When he sings, “I feel better when I’m on my own,” it’s swallowed up and spit out by noise and later contradicted on more melancholy, emotionally vulnerable songs such as “Online” and “Pleasant Street.” The idea that he’s wasting his life is of concern to him, but at least artistically, Crissinger can take some solace in knowing that he’s making good use of his time with That Hideous Sound.
Travis Shosa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Stamens/Pistils/Parties. Formerly the runner of COUNTERZINE, he has bylines at Pitchfork, The Alternative, and Post-Trash among others.