WUSSY – Forever Sounds (Shake It): Wussy turns up the drones to 11. Those drones were always present, of course, but the dynamic duo of young gun Lisa Walker and bulbous ex-Santa (and ex-Ass Pony) Chuck Cleaver always employed those drones as a support base for quick and crunchy melodic riffs to spring from as they played off each other vocally, trading jabs and cracking jokes about relationships that crumbled into ‘Yours’ piles and towns that needed escaping on the backs of motorcycles. On Forever Sounds, though, those drones drone hard, occupying the heart of the musical muscle and creating a cloud of noise from which a melody sometimes emerges.
Frankly, I’m mildly turned off by the throttling of this aesthetic, one that too often trades tunefulness for walls of distortion and snappy paces for feet-dragging, though it seems that among the band’s fans I’m in the minority. Wussy’s biggest if not earliest major cheerleader Robert Christgau recommended it, albeit with only an A Minus—the lowest grade he’s ever awarded any of their LPs. His disciples similarly gave relatively high marks, and commenters on his article also enjoy it. I admit I almost fell under the spell of that sonic swell too, but I did a funny thing after my last listen; I played their best-of comp, Buckeye, and guess what? None of the minor key depression-fests even approximates the charge I get from “Maglite” or “Mayflies.” The ballads don’t haunt or inspire like “Trail of Sadness” or “Humanbrained Horse.” So ask yourself: Is “Majestic-12” really better than “Vivian Girls”? And even when their drone was heavier than usual, like on Strawberry opener “Asteroids,” did they completely eschew memorable licks the way they do on “Dropping Houses”? In relistening to Buckeye, the only new track I could conceivably add would be “My Parade,” the album’s easy triumph.
In the past, Walker sounded giddy yet tormented, too young to have been around so long. Cleaver was gruff and weathered but still had the spontaneity of a kooky uncle reliving his youth through a friendly surrogate. Both had a way with painting a familiar scene in colors that highlighted neglected shadows. Now Walker and Cleaver sound road tired and hungry, like a grey cloud has parked itself over their heads. It’s understandable given their relentless touring and their newfound bit of semipopularity, but hopefully this experiment in clatter production doesn’t become their default position. They’re too good with a hook to surrender to drone attacks. B PLUS (**)
The Magic Words – The Day We Ran Away (Bandcamp download ’15): B PLUS (**)
The Magic Words – Junk Train (Bandcamp download ’14): A MINUS
Wussy – Attica! (Shake It ’14): A MINUS
Wussy – Duo (Shake It EP ’13): A MINUS
Wussy – Berneice Huff and Son, Bill Sings… Popular Favorites (free download ’13): B PLUS (**)
Wussy – Buckeye (Damnably ’12): B PLUS (***)
Wussy – Cake Shop (free download ’12): A MINUS