Record Bulletin

Record Bulletin, 5/4: Withered Hand and Wussy

Folk Freaks

I keep lying to myself and saying I’ll pick up the pace with the writing. I have been writing decently the last few weeks, albeit in the form of short stories.  Life has been busier than usual, a really hectic month or so that has left me with little time to pursue some of the simpler pleasures I have. Such is life.

Long story short, I have been listening to music, but not a whole lot of new stuff, or at least not enough. And I certainly haven’t been writing anything about it. With less time and fewer resources (Robert Christgau has been MIA and Tom Hull has increasingly cut back on his writing output), I’m content to take my time, listening to less and appreciating what I hear more.

In my head I envision a few pieces I’d like to write; certainly one about the books I’ve been reading, another concerning the elementary albums of American punk, and a few pieces on film, a detailed piece about Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and a second set of capsule reviews. But with the limited spare time I have, these are pipe dreams all.

withered-hand-new-gods_1395673085WITHERED HAND – New Gods (Slumberland): True Scotsman Dan Willson’s sophomore effort under his pseudonym may be the best damn album either side of the Atlantic since, I don’t know, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs? Radiohead’s In Rainbows? Fine, maybe not that good. But it’s about as close as it gets to being a perfect album as I’ve heard since I started this lousy site nearly two years ago. So dig this: the sheltered Jehovah’s Witness didn’t get his career started until his late 20’s, fearing all his childhood life his voice was too high—giving me the impression he wasn’t given too much access to Neil Young, his audible if not spiritual soul mate—not to mention it was his wife who put a guitar in his hands for his thirtieth birthday, an awfully late date to start jamming. There isn’t a song here I’d have removed, not one I’d dream of skipping, each its own melodious mini-meditation on God and love and death, painstakingly honest and too good to come from someone who hasn’t experienced firsthand some of the tribulations tallied here. In the hands of a poet like Willson, the normally repugnant notion of married rock stars sleeping with women on the road turns into an empathetic moral crisis between “love, love, love, love” and desire. He holds the hand of the Nameless One and asks she not get lung cancer. He looks into the eyes of his lover only to see his reflection and winds up getting off on it. Where his debut Good News took it too slow with its strong folk hand, here the beautiful ballads like “California” are complemented by pumped-up kicks a la “Heart Heart” and “King of Hollywood.” He’s like anyone else, making his way through this world as uncertain about the future as he is his left foot, the only difference being his a superb talent for turns of phrases and an unlimited well of heart-wrenching acoustic guitar licks to back them up. Ireland boasts Van Morrison. Scotland has Dan Willson. A

wussyWUSSY – Attica! (Shake It): For the longest time I couldn’t reconcile Christgau and his acolytes’ insistence that the Ohio quartet’s drone was reminiscent of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground in any sense other than that the drone existed. Sure, the heavy, churning wall of guitar rears its head on all of Wussy’s best, but VU’s aesthetic always leaned toward sly and cynical, soft-spoken and snake-oiled, something Wussy’s quick-footed riffs never reflected even if their heartbroken lyrics did. But here, on the group’s fifth and most noticeably slowest album, I finally get it. The two immediate standouts—“Teenage Wasteland” and “To the Lightning”—swirl and swoop, capturing the energy and untrodden and undeserved world-weariness of America’s youth. “Rainbows and Butterflies” and “Bug” grind through sludge searching for catharsis that never comes. Acoustic cuts “North Sea Girls” (the only survivor from 2013’s Duo EP) and “Acetylene” create a chiaroscuro. Where geezer Cleaver and young gun Walker have got Reed and Nico beat is their ability to play, the way they complement one another from track to track or within songs. Add to it that the Cleveland beatniks are as underappreciated (maybe less so) as Warhol’s late 60’s music project and the comparison becomes all the clearer. A MINUS


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