Jeffrey Lewis has always been a deft wordsmith, a purveyor of absurdly wordy explorations of anxiety, art, commerce, relationships, music, his home of NYC and the complicated nexus where all of those things converge. Bad Wiring, Lewis’s eighth album (depending how you count), continues those obsessions but with a tighter, more focused sound. Working with producer Roger Moutenot, the man responsible for much of Yo La Tengo’s later work, Bad Wiring distills Lewis down to his essence, his dry wit and nasally voice a perfect match for the nervous rhythms laid down by backing band the Voltage. The result is an album that confronts modern anxieties with fist-pumping choruses and sly melodies. Call it anxiety rock, a template first laid down by college rock staples like the Feelies, R.E.M. and the Dead Milkmen. It’s the end of the neighborhood as we know it and Lewis feels (mostly) fine.

“Depression! Despair!” (the album’s best track) is an exuberant rocker that inventories the many ways a person’s perceived failings can become overwhelming, complete with a shout-along chorus (“Depression! Despair!/ I’ll see you there”) and ripping guitar solo. “My Girlfriend Doesn’t Worry” is another litany of disquiet that illustrates how hard it can be to maintain connection with someone when your brain is working overtime while “Except for the Fact That It Isn’t” questions the very notion of what it means to be okay.

Even the things that ostensibly bring joy can be minefields of potential anxiety. On “Take It for Granted,” a Shins-like acoustic track, Lewis succinctly romanticizes the beauty of the everyday and how its very banality is the foundation of that beauty. If we spend all our time worrying that it might go away, how can we enjoy it? And on the catchy, garage-y track “LPs,” Lewis likens his vinyl-buying obsession to a disease. Despite the serious anxiety on display, Lewis rarely sounds defeated or resigned. He’s self aware enough to see the inherent humor in his (and humanity’s) condition; there’s definite joy in listening to Lewis obsess over his own obsessions.

The album loses a little focus as it heads into the home stretch with a few questionable track-order decisions. The Dead Milkmenesque “Dogs of My Neighborhood” is a perfectly fine song that feels woefully out of place between the halfhearted “Where Is the Machine” and the more earnest and resigned closer, “Not Supposed to Be Wise.”

Bad Wiring benefits from the fact that Lewis has been touring with the same band for the last four years. The ramshackle, folky feel of previous records is almost completely absent. Lewis along with bassist Mem Pahl and drummer Brent Cole rip through these 12 tracks with a crackling energy that keeps the album buzzing right along. Even Lewis’ voice is more confident and clear, his signature vocal fry replaced by a more full-throated singing. Lewis’ charm has always been his knack for translating his clearly busy mind into coherent, funny and insightful songs. Bad Wiring is a potent distillation of those charms and an exceedingly fun listen.

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