While Juan Wauters’s foray into music began as guitarist and vocalist of the garage-folk band, The Beets, he’s taking a turn to a new solo career, evident by the February release of his solo debut album, N.A.P. North American Poetry (Captured Tracks). Wauters recorded N.A.P. in a two-year span (2010-2012), at Marlborough Farms in Brooklyn, New York.
On first listen, Wauters sounds like a lo-fi band mimicing Bob Dylan’s sonic aesthetic—acoustic guitar, raw vocals and that confidence surrounding his lyrics. After spending a week listening to N.A.P., there’s no doubt that Wauters is an acquired taste, not easily palpable to everyone. His repetitive verses and melodies can be easily dismissed, especially since one can find such themes in pop tunes. But if given enough playtime, Wauters can take any listener on a self-analyzing, deeper journey.
The record hosts 12 marvelously short songs coming in at 28 minutes total, all of which touch upon loneliness, friendship, and journeys, in which the main character shoots for personal knowledge or for “freedom.” Out of the tracks, Wauters has two songs showcasing Carmelle Safdie—vocalist and percussionist for the Queens-based band, Beachniks. In “How Do They All Do?” Carmelle and Wauters have a conversation about friendship and about how her friends ignore her. Eventually, after being ostracized, Wauters saves the day by showing his unrelenting support to save Carmelle from loneliness.
The other song in which Carmelle sings, “Breathing,” is charmingly upbeat and comically confusing. Depicting two different perspectives, the song provides a scene where two different people struggle with not knowing their inner thoughts. While Carmelle describes the struggles of people unknown to her, Wauters takes a first-person angle. In the end, both characters are unsure of what is happening other than that they are breathing.
The tracks that stand out in Wauters’s solo debut are his Spanish songs, not merely because they introduce a different language, but because they discuss issues known primarily to immigrants. “Escucho Mucho” is the record’s fourth track; Wauters introduces a man whose life is influenced by people from a different generation—the small people entering his body. The man these tiny people invade is a soldier who wants to release his anger by killing another soldier, but there’s something keeping him back—he just can’t pull the trigger. The song’s simplicity mixed with the soldier’s complex turmoil showcases Wauters’s skillful lyricism. He’s capable of transforming complex emotions into universal language.
“Ay Ay Ay” is the last song on N.A.P., and it’s also the only other Spanish song. It alludes to the journey an immigrant takes when s/he decides to head north toward “la libertad.” Most listeners of Wauters probably don’t know how difficult it is for someone to leave his or her home and end up walking in a desert, or having to cheat death by hitching a ride on a train—hanging on to the train “como rasimos.” And although we’ll never have to go through such hardships, Wauters lets us experience one inch of the confusion, danger, and thoughts that someone aiming to get to the U.S. has during that arduous trip to freedom.
The other 10 songs Wauters sings portray themes everyone has seen transpire during and beyond adolescence. Through “Water” we get a sense of a young man trying to figure out who he is and what the future holds for him. Wauters presents a song where he questions, in three minutes, who he is and what it means to think about nothing in particular. Through his repetitive phrases and first-person narrative, he gives insight of how it might feel to be inside this person’s mind. N.A.P. is laden with this theme of uncertainty and a sense of introspection. “Sanity Or Not,” the record’s second song, is an upbeat, dream-pop tune depicting the constant confusion humans suffer. Wauters, unable to relieve this confusion, asks himself if this constant questioning is a sign of insanity.
He further searchers for an answer in the song’s wacky music video, which relays the conflict between two wrestlers from the 1980s. Watch the video below and see Wauters live while touring with labelmate Mac DeMarco at the end of March.[youtube http://youtu.be/EZ78lrg0k-U]