It’s not that there are not great moments on the record. It’s just that their Pell-Mell-playing-the-Tron-score sound – or King’s Daughters & Sons by way of Tangerine Dream sound, if you prefer – doesn’t ever fully click.
So, there’s a lot of this and that. There’s electronica-driven alt-rock (“Telos,” “Sacrificial Leaf”), a shade or two of synth balladry (“The Cloud Sanctuary”) and even occasional Eleven Eleven worship filtered through pseudo-industrial grooves (“Shadow Chase”). The record’s title track, starring once-member/now-guest Britt Walford of Slint, is excellent – listen to those horns snake around the kick drum – but it’s just too little, too late. Even with the inimitable Rachel Grimes on piano (the beautific closing track, “Final Sunrise”), the duo at the over-produced core (they of Grails parentage) feels like it’s reaching in too many directions at once. And it never commits to a single vision fully enough to pull off more than a passing glance.
For the right set of ears, this could be pretty engaging stuff. Those who tire of the organic tensions and mounting heat of post-rock at its most guitar-driven might find something interesting to Watter’s electronics- and synth-assisted brand of post-something. Sure, sure. And there is no doubting that tracks like “Final Sunrise,” with its knots of acoustic guitar, or “Depth Charge,” with its sly metal-lick lurch, are worth noting. It’s just that, History of the Future seems less like a cohesive record than a collection of disjointed moments. By the time you get to the Spaghetti Western R&B of “Liquid of Life,” with its awkward sampling, you’ll wonder what these guys haven’t thrown at the canvas.
The group’s 2014 debut, This World, was not an incredible record – it sometimes fell on the wrong side of New Age sentimentalism – but it was a good one and it was consistent. On History of the Future, left to their own devices in their own rustic Kentucky studio, Watter proves wobbly and, even though there are flashes of inspiration, it ultimately doesn’t rise above a crest of mediocre.