Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: N/A
As one of American indie’s premier songwriting projects, Cincinnati-based five-piece Wussy have set high standards of consistency over their decade-and-change career, patiently amassing a hefty songbook courtesy of head writers/guitar wranglers Lisa Walker and Chuck Cleaver, even while slowly widening their national profile through extensive road shows. Attica! was generally acclaimed as the band’s “breakthrough” in 2014 — a slightly odd designation, given the four unimpeachable albums preceding it, no matter the general uptick in media coverage and good press. But Attica! was inarguably one of Wussy’s richest and most melodically generous offerings, as fine a way as any for previously unaware consumers to swoon over what the band’s modestly sized yet rabid cult had adored since 2005.
Chuck Cleaver already sounded like a craggy, bitterly resigned old man when he founded the Ass Ponys near the end of the '80s, and in the 2010s his voice has changed little but suits him better than ever as a guy in his mid-fifties who is still writing about lost souls and poor decision making in the forgotten corners of Cincinnati, Ohio. With fellow vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Lisa Walker, who brings a certain resigned optimism to the picture as the complement to Cleaver's flinty realism, Wussy have quietly become one of the finest independent bands America has to offer, and on 2016's Forever Sounds, they sound as if they're making a bid to expand their boundaries to the Universe and beyond. Built from layers of richly atmospheric guitar sounds and processed vocals that echo and buzz through the valleys of reverb and fuzz, Forever Sounds suggests Wussy are transmitting from some other planet, as if they're keeping an eye on Ohio from outer space, and while bitterness doesn't play much of a part in these songs, these stories mostly focus on people getting by in spite of their circumstances, and when Cleaver and Walker sing about "Better Days," it's painfully obvious they represent an improvement in only the most relative sense.
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.
With sixth proper album Forever Sounds, Wussy continues its shift from its early countryish rock leanings. A band once concerned with clean, catchy songwriting now delivers a record invested in atmospheres and textures. The movement makes sense following the experiments of 2014’s Attica! and in a career spent touching on different genres. Getting rid of traditional pedal steel tones makes as much sense as using them, and Wussy merely find new ways to be impressive.
Wussy’s unlikely genesis occurred in 2001, when young singer Lisa Walker was scouted by 42-year-old Chuck Cleaver, the heavily bearded Ass Ponys frontman, who would, in later years, quit his day job as a stonemason to sell antiques. Cleaver and Walker, who also dated, wrote sharply about suburban malaise and domestic grievances, with a knack for unsentimental intimacy redolent of Rilo Kiley and Secaucus-era Wrens. A breakthrough of sorts came in 2012 with Buckeye, a career-spanning compilation blending spry country, poppy postpunk, wintry emo, and shabby folk-pop.
Proclaimed as “the best band in America” by Robert Christgau, one of the first and most respected critics in the music-writing business, Wussy clearly have a lot to live up to. While such a superlative is probably stretching it – there is no best band; such a thing is as impossible to achieve as it is to qualify – this sixth album from the Cincinnati five-piece certainly puts forward a compelling case. Firstly, some of the song titles are phenomenal.
Back in 2012, Robert Christgau, self-proclaimed Dean of American rock critics, said Wussy “have been the best band in America since they released the first of their five superb albums in 2005. " If that makes you sit bolt upright and wonder what you’ve been missing, their sixth album Forever Sounds is the perfect entry point. Hailing from Cincinnati, and sharing vocalists like a slightly murkier sounding Of Monsters and Men, Wussy are a game of two halves: former Ass Ponys frontman Chuck Cleaver on one side, singing songs that are perfectly pitched to suit fans of Pixies, Daniel Johnson and Drive By Truckers; Lisa Walker on the other, working like Margo Timmins to make his harder (She’s Killed Hundreds) and funnier (Hello, I’m a Ghost) material more plaintive (Donny’s Death Scene, Hand of God).
Ohio’s list of awesome bands that it’s spawned over the years is as long as your arm, certainly too long to include here. The Velvet Underground, it is said, always was received most warmly in Cleveland on their tours, so, as an ex-pat Buckeye it’s something in our blood, I guess. Cincinnati’s self-described Midwestern drone band, Wussy is perhaps the latest, greatest to stand out on the roster.