It is impossible to take the rocket ride that Koe Wetzel has over the past three years and not come out a changed man. But, upon listening to his new record Harold Saul High, it is apparent he can cling to what put him on that rocket in the first place pretty damn well. The follow-up to your breakthrough album is always the hardest one to make. The tracks still all have that rough edge and brash attitude that clicked with thousands of fans; yet there’s a street smart wisdom that permeates each lyric.
When I detailed Koe’s rise two years ago, I noted how what was connecting with his audience wasn’t just the catchy party song vibe, it was the way he deployed lyrics that had as much in common with Cross Canadian Ragweed as they do the best kind of hip-hop braggadocio. Koe had (and has) swag. He has managed to put that swag to music and create a style that is chiefly his. It drips with 90s post-grunge guitars and pairs with refrains that are personal and specific to him. Audiences, especially the younger side of the demo are responding to this.
Make no mistake. This is a rock record. It’s not country, it’s not even “Texas Country”. The production remains full of post-modern rock guitar riffs and bombastic drum fills. It’s got melodies and riffs for days. To my ears it is most reminiscent of bands like Buckcherry, Lit, Candlebox etc. There are very few country nods. The intro to “Too High to Cry” hints at it, and “The Worst Part” veers closest to a country arrangement. But, other than that it is a straight up rock collection. In vibe, content and sound. This is where the older part of the demo has connected to Koe. We’ve made it to the other side of the youthful transgressions, but sometimes we just want to nostalgically rock out.
The emotional anchor of this record can be found in the midsection with the songs, “She Can’t Stop Crying”, “Powerball” and “LTWYHM (Love the Way You Hate Me)”. Breakups, fights, pregnancy scares, drug use, loneliness, despair. It’s all here. Wetzel isn’t running from it either. He’s confronting it with his pen and putting it all on the page.
Even the upbeat bangers have some emotional heft to them. As with most of Wetzel’s lyrics there is a hazy, hungover emotional counterbalance provided by the modern and direct manner with which he turns phrases. The way he manages to pepper the perfect amount of curse words at just the right times is akin to a great MC. He’s not just out here dropping F bombs without just cause, he’s deploying them like a stoned surgeon.
The three tracks that stand out to me the most are “Too High to Cry”, “LTWYHM” and “Ragweed”. The vocals, the thematic elements and the sounds. These tracks are aces. When he sings about meeting the love of his life, but being too messed up to remember her name….you believe that. When he’s pleading with his girl not to leave him and complementing the way she looks when she’s angry…you feel that. When he laments that he connected with a girl because she misses Ragweed like he does…you recognize that. Speaking of that track, it’s like if Taylor Swift’s “Tim McGraw” dropped acid and showed up to the Warped Tour.
Bottom line is, this is a record about being messed up, getting messed up and cleaning the mess up. Koe Wetzel has been dealing with some pretty heavy and heady stuff these past couple years. He’s put it all on the page and on wax. There will be a plethora of detractors who don’t get it, hate on it or don’t like it. That’s okay. This record isn’t for them. This record is ugly, gnarly, emotional, immature…but this record is also real, honest, raw and lively. Kind of like Koe Wetzel. All we can ever ask an artist to do, is to give us an accurate representation of themselves at that moment in time. Put your truth to song. You may not like that truth and you may not want to listen to it…but if its honest, I’ll always respect it. That’s what Koe Wetzel has done. He’s writing and singing about his crazy ass journey…and this record proves it’s not over yet.