I’m only catching onto Cincinnati’s Wussy now, with the terrific Attica, their fifth album (give or take an EP, one odds-and-sods comp, one best-of comp, and an acoustic reworking of their debut.) They’ve garnered praise from no less than Robert Christgau; but don’t let that put you off. This is twangy, noisy American rock ‘n’ roll, with dual singers providing tangling, tart he-said/she-said vocals, a perfectly-imperfect racket perfectly-suited for your local beery dive.
Capable of being rootsy or roaring (and sometimes both at once), I hear echoes of X’s high-wire harmonies, Yo La Tengo’s fascination with sonic textures (and occasionally Sonic Youth’s excursions into noisy feedback), the Mendoza Line’s mutually-accusatory narratives, and many others.
Not only did all the aforementioned bands have a couple at their center, but almost all* of them had some romantic turbulence that arguably fed some writing material and tension into their art, and in some cases contributed to the band’s dissolution. Likewise with Wussy, though the couple (Chuck Cleaver, formerly of Ass Ponys,** and Lisa Walker) have remained post-breakup friends and bandmates.
Up top is “Teenage Wasteland” – it takes some moxie to name your leadoff track something like that. I’m reminded of The Replacements naming their breakthrough album Let it Be (there’s a lyric on the folky “Acetylene” that seemingly calls back to the ‘Mats “Here Comes a Regular”, when Cleaver croaks “This is not a home, this is an apartment.”)
In “Wasteland”, Walker belts out an anthem for everyone who ever found solace and communion in the clarion call of an amplified and distorted guitar, and for three minutes didn’t feel quite so alone. I’m partial to the part where she yelps out “oh! oh!”, an ecstatic interjection suggesting explosive energy, and impatience, and an epiphany that can’t be easily articulated in words.
“To the Lightning” owes more than a little to R.E.M., another band that wasn’t afraid to get some country in its rock. Its lyrics are impressionistic – is it about loving, or fighting, or drinking, or all of the above? Are they singing “This is where the ruin starts“, or “This is where the ruin’ starts” (two related, but slightly different concepts)?
I’ve had its repeated closing lines (“Bide your time, and when the time arises, rise and shine and let me go”) stuck in my head for days; that’s a nice little combination of rhythm and rhyme:
This is a band that’s not afraid of delicious ambiguity – the chorus to the rumbling, smoldering “Beautiful” is “I’m not the monster that I once was; twenty years ago, I was more beautiful than I am today.”
What does that mean? I turn those lines over and over in my head, like a worrying stone:
The delicate melody on this one is naggingly familiar:
You know if a band can turn in a decent cover of this, I’m gonna give them at least a shot:
*Keep it together, Yo La Tengo! We’re all pulling for you!
**Arguably, the only-kinda-terrible “Wussy” is an improvement over his old bandname.
I mean, come ON – the proper plural is “Ponies“!