“When was the first time you heard the word ‘saccharine’?” singer Rachel Brown asks, sounding a bit like a tired Beat poet, on Water From Your Eyes’ jazzy song, “Remember Not My Name.” Like practically every lyric on the avant-pop duo’s Everyone’s Crushed – at least the ones that don’t read like free-associated stream of consciousness poetry – Brown’s question could be taken ironically.
Since forming in 2016, Water From Your Eyes have paired noisy yet winsome music with winky, tongue-in-cheek lyrics that Brown delivers in a way that can sound at once sweetly innocent and slightly devious. That vague insincerity is an acquired taste but once you’re immersed in it, it can feel almost charming. It’s the secret ingredient that made their covers album, 2021’s Somebody Else’s Songs, so enjoyable (Brown enunciates every lyric of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” dorkily-on-purpose and sings No Doubt’s “Hella Good” sorta off pitch), and it’s also what made Structure, their 2021 album of originals, strangely endearing.
As with their previous records, Everyone’s Crushed opens up like its own universe. Keyboards stutter aimlessly, then they sigh, and then Brown exhales drolly right along with them: “I just wanted to pray for the rain.” Seems harmless enough, but then Brown’s counterpart, Nate Amos, who handles all the instruments, starts trilling his keys at the beginning of “Barley” and Brown, who uses they/them pronouns, starts singing about counting mountains. It’s disorienting (literally … they sing, “West wind left to bounce” with more trills) and they even quote Sting’s “Fields of Gold” before the whole thing approximates the audial experience of melting. Amos’ synths just seem to lose form.
This chaos frequently works in the duo’s favor. “Out There” begins with funky bass and ascending synths for a good minute before Amos starts squalling his guitar and Brown speak-sings a string of single syllable nouns and verbs: “track, give, dive, slack, drag, draft, mud, scram.” Does it mean anything? It’s hard to tell with the guitar jumping between your ears, but the effect is fun. “Everyone’s Crushed” finds Brown varying the phrase “I’m with everyone I love, and everything hurts” (also “I’m in love with everyone and everything hurts” and “I’m with everyone I hurt and everything’s love”) over more noisy guitar loops that don’t quite match up with the rhythm. And “True Life” pulls off the stereo clanging again but pairs it with a break bit, over which Brown raps kind of like Beck in the early Nineties.
At its worst, the music on Everyone’s Crushed sounds like etudes – studies in experimentalism, finger exercises for tyros in the avant-garde. But when Water From Your Eyes find transcendence – especially on the record’s final two tracks, “14” and the extra winky “Buy My Product” – it can be quite stunning.
“14” pairs warm orchestral strings with feedback as Brown sings, “When did it start to loop?” A lot of the time, they couldn’t find the right pitch with a map, a compass, and Lewis and Clark narrating the Waze directions, but there’s something nevertheless pleasant about the way they sing. You want them to find their way and get there. And on “Buy My Product,” which features a revolving, nearly Motorik beat, Brown and Amos work together to create a multilayered meditation on which Brown snarks at the nature of art and consumerism. “Remember that there are only things that happen,” they sing. “Buy my product. Now.” Nothing saccharine about that.