It is universally agreed that New Zealand’s Wax Chattels are a must-see live act; their hypnotically sinister debut captured this perfectly. Released in 2018 and supported by relentless touring, the eponymous album reached #7 on the Official New Zealand Album Charts, and release week saw the title feature as #1 in Rough Trade’s Top 20 New Releases. Tastemakers like NPR and A.V. Club came on as early champions. The album’s success at home and abroad led to the well-deserved nomination of Best Alternative Artist at the 2018 New Zealand Music Awards, as well as the band’s inclusion in the coveted shortlist of finalists for the Taite Music Prize and Auckland Live Best Independent Debut Award. After a knock-out entrée, the anticipation that surrounds their sophomore album, 'Clot', is immense.
Much like 'Wax Chattels', the writing process for 'Clot' took the best part of a year. While some songs were written on the road, the bulk of the album was workshopped throughout 2019 across bedrooms and storage containers. Demos were fine-tuned before taking them to the studio. Wax Chattels maintained the use of only the barest of ingredients — bass guitar, keyboard, and a two-piece drum kit — but the group spent more time experimenting with and finding new sounds. They wanted to maintain the same live element as in their debut, but, this time, heavier — for which they enlisted the help of mixing engineer, and fellow noise-maker, Ben Greenberg (Uniform, Destruction Unit, The Men). The keyboard sounds are noticeably thicker and the bass more intense. A marked step-up, this new record keeps the visceral energy of the debut, only this time they dig deeper into cathartic noise.
Clot’s inspiration — or, rather, frustration — came from the doomy, gloomy corners of Auckland’s underbelly, and the theme of confrontation is central. "Mindfulness" is about willingly tricking yourself into band-aid solutions; merely accepting the status quo rather than kicking up a fuss and forcing tangible change. The vitriolic choruses of "Cede" are in Cheng's native language — Taiwanese Hokkien — and are an indignant confrontation about Cross-Strait relations and self-determination. The experience of being a first generation immigrant and not having a personal relationship with extended family is expressed in the melodic single “No Ties”. The song touches on cultural differences and the parental sacrifice of careers and support systems to provide a “better” future for their children. The explosive arc of “Efficiency” describes knowing when to bide your time, and when to push, in which the band treads a line between the explicit and intuitive. “Less is More” fumes with the frustration caused by the selective memories of others. The violent fantasies in “Spanners & Implements” suggest a more literal interpretation of these themes. This is carried through “An Eye”, in which the band stresses the physical harm and psychological breakdown emanating from the escalating racial and political uproar throughout the world.
Still, though the band seethes and boils throughout, 'Clot' concludes with a message of hope. On the final track, “You Were Right”, Ruddell expresses an aspiration toward alternative viewpoints: wading through the noise and chatter, ultimately being able to accept the opinions of others, albeit after careful consideration. Perhaps it’s this capacity for self-awareness that makes Wax Chattels one of New Zealand’s most treasured independent exports.