There’s a good reason why Wussy have maintained a passionate cult following.
There’s a good reason why Wussy have maintained a passionate cult following and an equally good reason why that following has not yet risen beyond cult status. In regards to the former, they—specifically co-fronthumans Chuck Cleaver, formerly of the just-as-shittily-named band Ass Ponys, and Lisa Walker—are excellent songwriters with finely honed pop sensibilities and poetic lyrical talents. As for the latter, they have a habit for disguising those attributes with noise and mixing choices—burying the vocals, turning up the feedback.—that tend more toward the atmospheric than the radio-friendly.
Over a decade into their recording career, Cleaver and Walker haven’t abandoned that approach. If anything, the band’s seventh LP, Forever Sounds, sees them doubling down on it, resulting in what may be their heaviest, darkest effort yet. Among the indie rock godfathers, and Wussy’s obvious forbearers, like R.E.M. or Sonic Youth, we have seen the opposite: an early career edginess cedes to overt poppiness. So maybe we’ll never get to hear Wussy’s “Everybody Hurts,” and the band may never experience its commercial breakthrough. If Forever Sounds is at all indicative of its future output in lieu of taking that path, well, thank god.
Wussy’s last album, 2014’s Attica!, was at its best when Cleaver and Walker explored their acoustic-based, Americana-influenced tendencies. That’s not the case on Forever Sounds, which features nary an acoustic guitar and is instead built upon squalls of screeching guitars, thunderous rhythm section work courtesy of bassist Mark Messerly and drummer Joe Klug, and vexing Murmur-style murk. It’s a doomy, uncompromising record, but multiple listens reveal the band operating with as much melodic craft as ever. All this is immediately clear from the opening cut and lead single “Dropping Houses,” on which abrasive shards of a would-be guitar riff accentuate a disorienting chorus featuring Cleaver and Walker providing overlapping vocal hooks. At first, it sounds a bit like they’re stumbling all over each other, but quickly enough, a killer rock song with layers of ear candy takes shape.
Throughout the rest of Forever Sounds, Wussy does a similarly admirable job of kicking up dust with authority without sacrificing the songs’ creamy melodic centers. On “Gone,” a burbling Pete Townshend-like synth pattern and a bright arpeggiated riff cede to a crushingly heavy chord sequence, with Cleaver reciting the one-word title refrain in a desperate-sounding yelp. He sounds less consternated, even confident, on the next track, the hooky as hell “Hello I’m a Ghost” (“I can be any damn thing that I want” he declares in that dry, froggy bark of his). Compositionally, it’s the closest thing on the album to an unfettered power pop song, but those gloriously sloppy, chunky guitars and radio static vocal distortion ensure that it maintains an air of foreboding. Even when the band amps up the muscle and atmosphere at the expense of congenial melodicism, like on the Crazy Horse-style slow burner “Donny’s Death Scene” and the swirling garage rock of “Sidewalk Sale,” they do it with more than enough muscle to make the tunes land.
Forever Sounds gradually mellows out as it goes along. When, on the last three songs, the vocals come into the mix, the guitars get cleaner and the mood lightens a bit, the effect is disarming and powerful. This is especially true of the penultimate cut, Walker’s beautiful “Majestic-12,” a yearning, hopeful, starkly arranged rumination that sounds like the eye of a vicious storm that had been brewing for the previous eight songs.