When former Port O'Brien frontman Van Pierszalowski first launched his new project Waters in 2011, it felt like a fuzzier, electric version of his previous band's more rock-oriented songs. The hooky, lo-fi debut he produced in Norway provided him a fresh start both personally and creatively and by 2012, he had relocated back to California and repopulated Waters with a new set of bandmates in search of a more vibrant, pop-oriented sound. Working with Grouplove producer/drummer Ryan Rabin and co-producer Carlos De La Garza (Paramore), Pierszalowski and his crew hammered out a set of tunes inspired by the '90s alt-rock radio anthems of his youth, with a decidedly punched-up production value. The first fruits of this labor appeared on the 2014 EP It All Might Be OK, resulting in a deal with Vagrant, who agreed to release Waters' sophomore LP, What's Real, in early 2015. Pierszalowski's knack for big melodies and bittersweet lyrics dealing with heartbreak, hope, and a search for clarity translates well to the slicker pop format with songs like the massively catchy "I Feel Everything" and the more introspective "The Avenue" highlighting this well-made album. Reaching for the brass ring of radio-friendly rock is risky business, and to that effect, What's Real definitely feels produced and engineered for mass success, but with his sweet, broken tenor and heartfelt songcraft, Pierszalowski manages to come off as sincere even while playing to the back seats. It's a tough trick to pull off, but behind songs like "Got to My Head" and "Over It," Waters have a chance to break out without losing their cred.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger