Austin Held and Nicholas Wiggins’ band PRETTY AWKWARD have released their album Get Weird and it’s a raucous, fun, and musically skilled offering. The Seattle duo has  surrounded themselves with first-class collaborators for this collection and the team effort results in one of 2023’s best Alt.Pop releases to date. The eleven-track collection covers a wide range of styles and subject matter yet unifies it all under their own unique sound that’s tailored to appeal to a wide range of fans. It boasts a robust sound that grabs you by the figurative lapel and doesn’t let go. Held and Wiggins have an obvious vision for this band and their presentation reflects that.

Textures are alive with color throughout these songs. “Hang Out” introduces us to PRETTY AWKWARD’s sterling stew of sound, a musical collage of rhythm, post-production effects, and off-kilter melodies. Despite their off-kilter nature, PRETTY AWKWARD’s melodic virtues are alluring. The guitar lines opening the first song are warm, almost liquid, and oscillate in a sing-song fashion. “Hang Out” accumulates its effects as it progresses and transforms into a fully-realized track shortly after its beginning.

The echo-laden piano opening of “Misfits” creates, in tandem with Held’s singing, a hushed and reflective mood. It soon bursts into the open, however, as a sing-along pop anthem for anyone who’s ever felt set apart from the pack. The song has a steady yet rousing pace ideal for the stage. The band’s music is a good fit for live performance, but there’s no question they’ll concede changes, as some of the production effects used on this album don’t readily translate into a concert setting.

“Get Weird” isn’t a socially conscious bit of songwriting in the traditional sense. It does, however, address the times we live in where everything seems up for grabs, and what once seemed dependable and true is subject to question. It’s another song that pushes individuality in a big way. It doesn’t build like the album’s opening songs, but breaking with the pattern provides an entertaining jolt for listeners.

The band hits another high water mark with the cut “Castle Walls”. Pretty Awkward excels in turning out alt.pop anthems that never sound prefabricated or false but, instead, like natural expressions of their innate exuberance. It’s a song with a personal touch as well. Straddling the line between the personal and universal with such balance is a gift. “Higher” has the same aspirations. The band’s wont for breaking up their compositions into distinct parts, prioritizing an ebb and flow, gives each tune in that vein considerable oomph they would otherwise lack. Their frequent incorporation of piano into the songs is another hallmark of their approach.  Their latest single “Woozy” is an eye-opening take on unhealthy relationships that we just can’t quit.

There’s a clipped, reggae-like lope influencing “Long Gone”. It makes this number one of Get Weird’s more infectious tracks. Focusing on Held’s vocals in the song’s opening seconds gives some indication of what’s to come and they continue engineering the peaks and valleys of these songs with a sure sense of craft. The album’s finisher, “Burn”, shows a different musical side than its predecessors. There’s a steady build from the outset that climaxes just after the song’s midway point before PRETTY AWKWARD shifts into its coda. It’s easily Austin Held’s most emotive vocal performance, as well, and hearing him totally invested at this moment puts an exclamation point on one of 2023’s most memorable releases. PRETTY AWKWARD don’t sound that way at all. This is a band that knows exactly what they’re doing and carries it off with immense skill. 

Garth Thomas