At one point or another, we all yearn for a fresh start, a clean slate. Yet few artists can empathize with that sentiment quite like the California indie rock project Waterstrider, whose Way Out EP arrives on the heels of a series of dramatic setbacks and disasters.

Before writing the EP, frontman Nate Salman saw his home of Santa Barbara ravaged by fire and flood, had an infection in his heart that landed him in the ER, went through a painful breakup, and was even bitten by a potentially rabid bat. “When things hit hard, they hit really hard,” said Salman. Yet instead of being defeated, he took those experiences in stride, incorporating them into this dazzling and complex series of songs, which radiate hope and catharsis in equal measure.

“Time to reset / time to reclaim a way out,” he sings in the title track, an intention that extends to the stylings of the music itself: while Waterstrider’s debut LP Nowhere Now (2016) and the Constellation EP (2011) were packed with exuberant polyrhythms and angular guitar figures alongside Salman’s soaring falsetto, Way Out invites listeners into shadowy soundscapes, permeated with rushes of sleek synths and kinetic percussion, that sync perfectly with its open-ended narratives.

While Salman demoed these five songs by himself, he completed them in collaboration with the London-based duo St. Francis Hotel, who add a dose of space-age gloss to the project. Largely eschewing the sunny guitar riffs of Waterstrider’s earlier work, tracks like “Weaker One” and the EP’s title track celebrate the lurching bounce of trip-hop, as well as the vast minor-key soundscapes of Mount Kimbie. Echoing the sparse arrangements of Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, closing track “Breed” strips down Way Out’s atmospheric touches, with Salman beginning the song backed only by a humid keyboard figure.

Throughout Way Out, Salman and his collaborators blend digital and acoustic instrumentation to thrilling effect. “I wanted Way Out to sound like a futuristic relic,” Salman explained. Nowhere is that more evident than on central track “In Circles,” in which Salman layers warm, pulsing synths with crunching drums and raspy veils of feedback into a disorienting sonic stew that reflect the multifaceted emotions threaded through the project.

Way Out considers a world renewed and explores what it means to be an individual when everything familiar has disappeared from your life. Way Out is a manifestation of its own intentions; more than mere reflection, it finds Nate Salman tapping into a new vein of his talent, with results that are as thrilling as they are unexpected.

← Artists