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Antarctica, the new album from Connecticut-based duo waveform*, is a meditation on isolation and loneliness, ten songs that sway between intimate sparseness and towering walls of guitar, each radiating a palpable sense of longing in every note. But despite the album’s preoccupation with solitude, Antarctica is songwriters Jarett Denner and Dan Poppa’s most collaborative work to date–and it’s also their best.
Formed while the duo was still in high school, waveform* began as an exercise in Poppa and Denner’s shared musical taste. The two bonded over their love of raw-yet-songwriterly music: “Alex G, Teen Suicide, the whole Orchid Tapes scene was really influential to us. We started to figure out that you could record music on the iPhone or laptop and it could actually be listenable,” Poppa explains. They honed their recording and writing skills over the years, and began applying their homemade execution to hazy shoegaze, off-kilter slowcore, hushed dream pop, and more. As the band continued to grow, the current era of streaming internet discovery allowed listeners to stumble across their ever-growing discography, and in 2020, the release of Last Room caught the attention of Run For Cover Records–another common love between the two young songwriters. “We were really revolving around RFC from the start,” says Denner. “We were just so invested in all the music and the lore around the label, so when they got in touch with us it was beyond exciting.” The label reissued Last Room in 2022 and waveform* continued to pick up steam, including performing with kindred spirits like Feeble Little Horse, They Are Gutting A Body of Water, and Momma.
All the while, Poppa and Denner were writing songs that would become Antarctica–but this time something was different. “With our other records we usually would write and record really individually,” explains Denner. “We’d pretty much just make the songs ourselves and there was a lot of distinction between my songs and Dan’s songs. But this time we were together a lot more and made a lot more decisions together–we even played a lot more on each other’s songs.” It might seem unusual for a songwriting duo with numerous albums under their collective belt to only recently start actually writing songs together, but it’s a testament to Poppa and Denner’s uniquely compatible creativity that their work has always been so cohesive. And now, Antarctica is the product of a true songwriting team. “I think it’s just more gratifying for the both of us,” Poppa says. “In the past we’d just accept that anything the other was doing was the way it was, but now we’re much more willing to try each other’s opinions and ideas.” The result is a refined musical extension of the two, an album full of striking moments that unfurl so organically that they feel akin to chemical reactions.
Antarctica sounds like waveform* fulfilling their potential, going beyond just the sum of their influences and creating a distinctive sonic identity of their own. Each song overflows with mood and atmosphere, while Poppa and Denner lean into their impeccable knack for melody and hooks. “We sort of have this idea of vibe songs vs. songwriting songs,” says Denner. “We had this tectonic shift where we started prioritizing songcraft more. I think as time went on we just got more serious about the songwriting.” Poppa adds, “I think we’ve always liked that sort of side of us and wanted to do more of it, but now we’re really achieving it.”
This approach is apparent on songs like opener “Lonely,” a slowburn of lush acoustics and gentle melodies that invite the listener into the world of Antarctica. The track also plainly introduces the album’s themes, as well as waveform*’s ability to compellingly blend diary-like directness with surreality. “I think all of the songs deal with isolation,” says Denner. “My songs tend to be more direct, but then Dan’s have more of a dissociative, impressionistic vibe to them. It’s definitely a distinct difference in the way we get the same ideas across.” The album is populated with images of vastness–oceans, snowy tundra, the dark itself–and the lyrics work hand-in-hand with the music to create a dense feeling of emotional remoteness. On songs like “Freak Me Out” or “Firework,” waveform* demonstrate their mastery of dynamics with tender acoustic strummers that unexpectedly give way to blasts of fuzzed out guitars and pounding drums. Elsewhere mid-album standout “In My Drink” shows that the duo are just as capable of creating catharsis even without the huge guitars. The song sprawls out over five and a half minutes, with its stunning melodies drawing out more and more emotion with each chorus.
Antarctica closes with “Orphan Child,” another sprawling track that slowly transforms from dreamy acoustic balladry into a colossal conclusion of blown-out guitars. The song wraps around the listener like an almost otherworldly presence, and perfectly encapsulates what waveform* does best: capturing a sense of deep melancholy that’s also comfortingly familiar, like a longing that may ache but also provides a sustaining reminder of the one you’re missing.