Track Review: Microwave’s “keeping up” sounds more like breaking down
By all accounts, the Atlanta rock band Microwave is successful. They’re signed to a label, have released two well-received albums, have their work featured in all the relevant music publications, and are consistently playing legitimate tours. But the release of their new single, “keeping up,” reveals that all may not be what it seems.
“Keeping up” fades in from a bassy haze. Immediately, it feels liminal, a song that’s amorphous and clings to the boundaries of the subconscious — definitely not as “present” as the abrasive brand of rock Microwave has churned out in the past. It’s a brilliant use of form to communicate the themes “keeping up” explores. Vocalist Nathan Hardy sings of being disconnected from friends, standing on the outside of inside jokes. It’s hard to keep up when distance and the rigors of life on the road are conspiring against him. Just like Hardy, the song is fleeting, soon fading out to head onto the next show. Its stay is temporary and after less than 4 minutes, it comes to an end. It doesn’t belong here any longer. This isn’t its home.
There’s no guttural screams or thrashing of cymbals to be found. Hardy sings in nearly a whisper, sounding exhausted and defeated. He’s inviting us into an intimate moment, with the song sounding like something Hardy penned in the band’s van after another raucous show. You can picture him lightly strumming his guitar, singing softly under his breath while a bandmate sleeps in the backseat. Maybe whoever’s driving shoots a glance over and gives an encouraging, “That sounds nice, I like it.” It’s 2 a.m. and they silently share the same thoughts. There’s hundreds of miles of highway taking them further from their homes, to another show that doesn’t feel quite as fulfilling as the ones on their first tour did. They made it. And this is all that there is.
Hardy communicates his fear that they’ve reached their Mecca, only to see the accomplishment depreciate. As the time passes, their friends back home advance their careers, get married, buy houses. But there’s not much more advancing for the guys in Microwave to do. Their brand of emo/punk/rock has a ceiling, and they’re nearing it. And once this life becomes unsustainable, what jobs will be out there for them? What employer will view years as a touring musician as a positive? Hardy laments, “There’s no room for broke asses like me.” While the years of touring undoubtedly gave Microwave countless friends and memories, they’re aware it’s putting them behind the 8 ball. They’re starting life years late, a disadvantage that might be so insurmountable that it condemns them to a life of still “washing dishes where [they’re] 40 years old.”
I’ve always admired Microwave for their dedication to honesty in their songwriting and willingness to explore grittier aspects of life. Their songs are generally devoid of idealism and romanticism, making for more somber listening experiences. “Keeping up” is no exception. While many other artists have explored the hardships of spending so much time on tour, Microwave looks past the present loneliness and isolation. They envision a future of hardship. Hell, they’re broke now, and this is their “peak.”
“Keeping up” is simultaneously humbling and heartbreaking to me as a fan, because Microwave is no isolated incident. Numerous beloved acts in the genre are mortgaging their futures to play shows and create art for us now, and “keeping up” is a reminder that success in the genre is a far cry from fame and fortune. When Microwave hangs it up, there will be no royalty checks or licensing deals to live off of. So how can we as fans better support these artists so that their sacrifices aren’t as debilitating in the long-term? How can we grow the fan base while remaining true to the core and spirit of the genre? It’s a problem we need to explore, because it’s profoundly disappointing for me to imagine other talented acts turning down the opportunity to “make it” since the risks are still too weighty. While “keeping up” doesn’t read as a critique of the scene, I couldn’t help but ponder these questions as Hardy bluntly recounted the truths of his situation.
All in all, “keeping up” is an incredible song. In just 4 minutes, Hardy had me delving into deep, complicated themes. Despite taking a more subdued approach to its instrumentation, “keeping up” is no less evocative or provocative than Microwave’s heavier work. If Microwave takes this headspace into the studio for their third LP (whenever that would be) fans should prepare themselves for the most crushing Microwave release to date.