IT CONFUSES ME not that Floater is a well-liked band. In fact, they are extremely well liked. This hard rock trio (Robert Wynia, Peter Cornett, David Amador) clings to a parcel of land reserved only for the biggest local acts: the headlining slot onstage at the Crystal Ballroom. Their music—strung together over eight recordings that litter the landscape of Eugene and Portland record stores, yet are seldom spotted anywhere beyond—is primed for the FM airwaves, with mammoth pop hooks, solos that would make bro-dealing Guitar Center salesmen blush, and a hard rock sound synonymous with the Pacific Northwest.
Correction: Make that the Pacific Northwest circa 1991.
Floater is one of the most fascinating conundrums in Portland music. Your opinion of the band probably hinges on your take on the past 19 years. If you long for a simpler (of course, it wasn't simpler) time, when you still recognized the band names on the Satyricon marquee, then Floater's latest, Wake, will appeal to you. It's hard rock in its purest form—volume heavy and instantly accessible, to the point that the KUFO signal tower could have been erected in their name (oddly, a quick glance at the station's playlist found no Floater on the charts, but did reveal spins of new material from a pair of bands with deceased lead singers—Alice in Chains and Drowning Pool). If you care not to experience an album that's scrapped together from the outtakes of whatever it was Citizen Dick was supposed to sound like, you know where I'm going with this.
There will never be a time when bands cease to liberally borrow from the past—from the C86 enthusiasts in the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, to '80s keyboard pop revisionists Hockey, to the reconstructed wall of girl group sound of the Pipettes—yet few do so without at least acknowledging the present. Wake exists in an alternate-universe version of Portland where time stood still (your mayor: Bud Clark), as Floater only tightens their grip on the tattered flannel strings that remain from this bygone era. Straightforward rock numbers like "Cannonball" and "Leave a Light On" come off as heavy-handed collisions between Tool and Godsmack—it truly is the sound of being stuck between competing hard rock FM dials. "Broken Toy" unearths an aggressive rock-funk sound that was last seen flopping for air as a dying fish in that one Faith No More video.
At a time when even Pearl Jam no longer wants to sound like Pearl Jam, why does Floater continue to break Dollo's Law, choosing to ignore all we've learned in the past two decades? Perhaps it can be linked to their initial inception, established over 16 years prior in Eugene—if you need a shortcut to Floater's sound, the words "Eugene" and "1993" say plenty. While their role in peddling early '90s rock nostalgia is clear, they do so with an incredibly serious demeanor. Their bio quotes an unnamed press source that regales them as "one of the greatest power trios in modern music" and "the nearest American thing to perfection," while their street team (the Exiled Army) ignores conflict-of-interest issues and uses a quote ("great musicianship and a style all their own") that is actually from the band's publicist, Alex Steininger, circa his defunct In Music We Trust webzine.
Ultimately Wake is weighed down by Floater's grandiose intentions, and while it's hard to question the talent of the three members involved, their strident devolutionary stance is both absolutely fascinating and endlessly frustrating. It's a shame the band spends so much time looking backward that they can't see what's right in front of them.