English indie-rock band Circa Waves rides full speed into their fifth studio album Never Going Under, released January 13, 2023, under Lower Third. Their album cover depicts a jockey, ready to conquer his competition on a horse fit for a king, a perfect image to showcase what the eleven tracks entail: an intense collection of classic indie-rock sounds that certifies Circa Waves as a blue ribbon winner. Kieran Shudall (vocals, guitar), Joe Falconer (guitar), Sam Rourke (bass), and Colin Jones (drums) have been making music together since 2015, the quartet spending the past years touring with bands like The 1975, performing at festivals worldwide, and topping rock and alternative charts wherever their music can reach. However, the band uses their latest LP to reflect on the current state of the world, choosing to center their songs around our changing ecosystem and the importance of holding on.
Never Going Under starts with their title track “Never Going Under.” It’s obvious fairly quickly how the band has mastered the classic indie rock format, the song immediately showcasing electric guitar riffs and hardcore drum pacing. This is heard again in the following song, “Do You Wanna Talk,” as it is in the rest of the album; the bridges consistently slow down to lead into an impactful final verse, referring to the styles of other indie-rock bands like COIN’s How Will You Know If You Never Try?
A few years ago Shudall and his partner became parents, the experience eyeopening for the singer-songwriter who began to question the world his child would grow up in. In the third song, “Hell On Earth,” he comments on the constant change of the world to the same, classic drum beats. “But there goes another one/ A father to a son, a friend to a friend/ Another waste of time as politicians lie/ Again and again and again and again and again and again.” It’s reminiscent of Car Seat Headrest’s “1937 State Park” with it’s scream-out-loud chorus and upbeat energy.
In the fifth track, “Carry You Home,” Shudall once again sings to the setbacks of the world and how he is still trying to take care of the people he loves. “There’s a crowd that’s crying/ Screaming, ‘Mother Nature’s dying’/ They say God loves a trier/ And I watch the world fall/ As my son begins to crawl/ Oh, I hope he sees it all.” The song is catchy and heartwarming, a real look at a father’s love for his child and his incessant need to try to give his son a better future.
Many people believe that we’re experiencing a second Gilded Age, and Circa Waves is no exception to this idea. In the seventh song, “Electric City,” the band plays to lyrics hitting at the constant rate of technological innovations and the strain it’s put on society. “In this electric city where living is sin/ In this electric city we’re all plugged in.” The tracks that follow, up until the end, are redolent of Jack Antonoff productions, full of high energy synth and loud but steady rhythms.
The final piece “Living in the Grey” is exactly what it sounds like: It emphasizes the band’s new existence as one rooted in the lime light, admitting how their “dreamed-about” future isn’t as black and white as they thought. However, the song quickly separates itself from the previous ten. It begins with orchestral sounds before turning into a full production, coming-of-age montage about their lives, ending Never Going Under on a full scale bang.
As indie-rock grows more and more popular, it becomes increasingly difficult for any one band to take dominance in the genre. After all, the basic components of a rock song remain the same: steady but compelling drums, electric guitar solos, quiet bridges, and a lead singer who isn’t afraid to get loud. But, instead of futilely trying to create something new, Circa Waves plays into this narrative, building an entire album centered around these classic, iconic sounds and never once going under the radar.