You know what the kids these days don’t understand? Hard work. You can’t just roll out of college and expect a career in your field, not unless you’re one of those jet-setters that can network with a million people first. Likewise, a band can’t just drop a half-baked product onto Bandcamp and expect the public to remember them in ten years. Album covers of hasty photos, dashed songs about love and beer and pizza – it’s all fine and postmodern, but the music hangs limp like fat on an old lady’s arm. You gotta work for it, son.
Wussy have worked hard. They’ve made five other albums before this one, and toured with lots of yr indie heroes – the Breeders, Shonen Knife, Afghan Whigs, Yo La Tengo, Jeffrey Lewis. I mention this, because all that work builds muscle, and you can hear that 15 years of sweat pay off in their latest, Forever Sounds. These are the songs of a band who know how alt-rock songs should go, not as a formula but as a code of ethics: burly riffs, Chuck Cleaver’s earnest oddball vocals intertwined with Lisa Warner’s wizened siren ones, lyrics that glide between post-mortem rumors and friendly spirits. Dependably catchy and odd in equal measure, Wussy embody the correct way to bring back the Nineties.
'Dropping Houses' is the perfect opener and lead single, in that it tells ya everything to expect out of Forever Sounds - the teethy guitar gunslinging, Cleaver and Warner’s seamless weave of a chorus, vaguely-but-not-quite familiar melodies (this one sounds quite a lot like the chorus to Butthole Surfers’ 'Pepper'). And, most importantly, how Warner slips the line “I’m not dropping houses on you now” as if other people say this to each other all the time. (She’s referring to The Wizard of Oz, by-the-by.) Wussy stoked this mundane surrealism on 2014’s Attica!, but here the weird burns brighter than ever, thanks to extra dollops of reverb and grit. 'She’s Killed Hundreds' and 'Sidewalk Sale' brim with menace, though Cleaver and Warner never specify the exact threat in the latter – when they assure us it’ll be all right, even after your placenta’s fallen to the floor, we can only squirm and fill the gaps in our heads.
But there’s more to Forever Sounds than just shivers and fuzz. Armed with a broad pallet, the band explore the myriad ways that people interact with each other, in life and death. The congenial, REM-ish anthem 'Hello, I’m A Ghost' actually has nothing to do with the paranormal – rather, Cleaver’s asserting his right to be ambivalent after breaking up with a lover. And, apparently, it’s still not easy: “every day is a race from point A to point B and I still don’t know why”. The aforementioned, Pixies-ish 'She’s Killed Hundreds' is supposed to be about the astounding rumours you hear about a recently deceased loved one that you’ve known since childhood – but there’s a disquieting line that personifies the afterlife, as something that “pays you compliments and gives you flowers”. And I’ve been trying to work out all afternoon what that means in regards to the original theme, and I give up. Something profound, for sure.
At any rate, the shining jewels in Forever Sounds’s crown are the ones where Warner takes centre stage, and shines a light on her own cryptic narratives. So much loveliness shrouds 'Majestic-12' like a morning fog, pedal steel adings a mother-of-pearl sheen like Mazzy Star’s. The following 'My Parade', taken up by Cleaver, seems somewhat too jaunty in its wake, like the sun’s come out too soon after a long-awaited downpour.
You’d think that, after all this time-tested alt-rock, a full-blown pub shanty would sound wholly out of place. But 'Folk Night at Fuckies' fits - after a hard day’s work, Wussy’s got to blow off steam somehow. And the warm, cheery jig emphasises the generous spirit behind the band’s labor, a commitment to their music that doesn’t eclipse their humanity. So drink and dance, guys. You’ve earned it.
8Lee Adcock's Score