Jangle-pop lovers may well wonder where Yung Wu has been all their life.
Unless you were one of the fans who eagerly scarfed up every Feelies side-project in the ‘80s, or haunted Hoboken’s legendary record store Pier Platters, you may have never even heard of Yung Wu’s 1987 album Shore Leave. Newly reissued by Bar/None, jangle-pop lovers may well wonder where it’s been all their life.
Released on Coyote Records in the wake of the reinvigorated Feelies’ second album The Good Earth in 1986, Yung Wu’s sole full-length featured what was essentially an augmented Feelies. Keyboardist John Baumgartner brought some of the rural texture from his group Speed the Plough, whose debut itself featured two Feelies, but the core group was pretty much the Haledon, New Jersey mothership: the twin guitars of Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, albeit less prone to rave-ups here; bassist Brenda Sauter; drummer Stan Demeski; and Dave Weckerman, who took lead vocals and songwriting duties.
The title track leads things off with acoustic rhythm chords that sound just like a Good Earth outtake, but when vocals come in, it reveals something even more tender. Weckerman’s voice gives Yung Wu an even more delicate feel than the main group; while Mercer and Million, by the time of The Good Earth, had shifted from art-punk agit-vocals to a more unassuming conversational baritone, Weckerman’s modest alto is a lighter timbre over an already airy sound.
The contrast between the bands may be best heard on “Spinning,” the most Feelies-like song here. It starts with familiar jangle chords, though the vernal lyrics of The Good Earth are traded for something oddly ritualistic. It’s not all audible, but when a line like “Evening’s carcasses are stripped of flesh” comes through, you wonder exactly what’s in the woods Weckerman’s vocals, much like on The Good Earth, are sometimes mixed under the music, but that music is irresistible: The rhythm suggests a gentler “Fa Cé-La,” a reference made specific in a guitar solo that directly quotes the Crazy Rhythms favorite, brilliantly bringing the Feelies’ nervous early state into its now defining gentle jangle, with Baumgarten’s melodica adding a low rumbling swoon. And that reference makes this a kind of sequel to the ambiguous lyrics of the 1980 track: “Get a message out to Mom and Dad/ Everything is alright.” Maybe he’s escaped a bloodthirsty cult.
Like the Feelies, Yung Wu makes its covers its own. There’s a dryly funny, barely audible spoken word intro to Phil Manzanera’s Peruvian expedition “Big Day” in which someone seems to be explaining the painful effect of the parasite known as the candiru (let the morbidly curious look it up, and don’t say we didn’t warn you). It’s a faithful cover taken at the same tempo as the Diamond Head source, but in this group’s hands it seems as personal as an original–and it makes you wonder if the home office ever covered “I’ll Come Running.”
Even better is the Stones cover “Child of the Moon,” a gorgeous embrace of bad-boy psychedelia that is filtered through a distinctly gentle voice. Demeski keeps a lighter beat than he does on the more propulsive Feelies albums. This brings home the sense that this is a project grown organically from the fertile soil of a band that knows each other so well they can easily shift gears just enough to create a sound informed by their parent group but with the clear sound of another, related musical genepool. It looks just like papa Feelie, but you can see cousin Speed the Plough in it too.
Rare bonus tracks that may be unfamiliar to even the most dedicated Feelies fan are included on a limited edition flexi-disc, which includes an earlier, spikier version of the title track and “Out of Baby’s Reach,” which sounds like a raw Crazy Rhythms demo. But the main album will be the revelation for newcomers; pull up to this shore and prepare for a journey that may be over 30 years old, but still sounds fresh.