Release Date: Apr 7, 2015
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Pop, Shoegaze
“I threw a bunch of crazy crap together in my shed and some folks are calling it the album of the year! Are they completely mental? Probably”. Thus reads an incredulous-sounding Facebook statement by Scot-turned-US-citizen Gary McClure upon reading rave reviews about his project American Wrestlers, merely an attempt to while away some hours before the paperwork could be finalised to allow his stay on the other side of the Atlantic, where love had led him, to become permanent. McClure had been making music in the UK for years with little success and, not realising he had taken the long haul to the US for the, ahem, long haul, he hadn’t taken much stuff with him when following his wife-to-be to St Louis.
Roy Thomas Baker once opined that a lousy recording of a hit song was still a hit song, and as lo-fi pioneers like Guided by Voices, Smog, and the Mountain Goats have shown us in the past, if you have the right tunes, a low-tech home-brewed production can do as much to bring out their virtues as a few months at a $500-an-hour studio with a handful of first-call session musicians. The debut album from American Wrestlers confirms that the lo-fi aesthetic is still going strong in the 21st century; Gary McClure, formerly of Working for a Nuclear Free City, built a makeshift home studio centered around a Tascam eight-track cassette deck he found at a pawnshop after relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, and the result is one of the best crummy-sounding pop albums of recent memory.
When you hear the origin story of American Wrestlers — wayward former member of a critically acclaimed U.K. band moves to the U.S. midwest for love, goes solo, and isolates himself with the cheapest equipment possible to record the Album He’s Always Wanted to Make — the visions it inspires are of folk-rock over-earnestness, of long-subsumed, deep-dwelling poetry flowing out into tearfully confessional recordings.
Using a drum machine to replicate a live backing band tends to have the opposite effect, making solo home recorders sound even more isolated. Case in point, American Wrestlers’ self-titled debut. As of now, it’s Gary McClure’s project and his alone, but the songs won’t require a lot of maintenance to be ready for the road: guitars, bass, piano and vocals are layered about the same way they would have if American Wrestlers were just four guys in a cheap studio.
After a false start playing guitar for the Manchester band Working for a Nuclear Free City, Scottish-born Gary McClure (working as American Wrestlers) has made this bedroom-pop record about the difficulty of being heard in the world. He's easy to commiserate with when he sings, "There’s no one crying over me, either." Sad and wise, McClure atones for a true love ("Holy") and offers an ode to Kelly Thomas, a homeless California man murdered by the police in 2011 ("Kelly"). While the low-fi mix distracts and some tracks run long, you can hear the bona fides of a skilled singer-songwriter.
If you think about it for long enough, it seems improbable and amazing that any song ever gets written. It starts as nothing until you come up with something; a hook you can’t get out of your head, a turn of phrase that might sound quite good with a beat. A riff you can just about convince your fingers to pull off as long as no one is actually listening when you do it.