In the last decade indie rock has been overwhelmed by heavy reverb as a stylistic choice. This is a bad thing in a rock context when it blunts the sonic attack. If reverb is prominent it needs to be pointing up something thematically—maybe the demon frenzy of a rockabilly singer, maybe the cosmic Infinity of the psychedelic guitar, maybe (for not too long, please!) the displacement of a dreamy state. Without a point, heavy reverb is just murky, samey texture.
I don’t say we need to know what the point is. On the contrary, for reverb to be properly evocative we must not know too definitely what its point is. One of the greatest reverb hooks I’ve ever heard, right at the start of Grizzly Bear’s “While You Wait For The Others,” is deeply enigmatic: no matter how familiar you become with the song, so that you see how those upstruck guitar chords fit into the song’s pattern, you cannot hear the sounds properly as chords. On the other hand, you can’t hear them as nontonal noises either. They’re almost just room-reverberation noises, like when a door slams shut on a big space—raising the question, Oooh, how would I feel about going in there?—but you can’t be unaware that they’re also rhythm guitar chords starting up a pop song, which turns the question into, Oooh, do I want to get involved in this song?
The song is magnificent. Having heard it once, you know next time that you do want to be involved. But going in is never easy. Those first booming guitar strikes will not put on a friendly face. They’re like temple dogs guarding the song’s entrance. You have to endure them and get past them—which makes the rest of the experience that much more thrilling.