Wussy’s Left For Dead

28Nov07

Left for Dead, Wussy’s second album, allows us to take the full measure of Lisa Walker as a bandleader.  To me she looks very large, and growing.  The band’s previous album, Funeral Dress, split the songwriting and lead vocal duties equally between Walker and her more well-known co-leader Chuck Cleaver, formerly of the Ass Ponys.  But this even better album, my favorite of 2007, features eight (of 12) tracks written and sung by Walker alone and two more co-written with Cleaver, leaving no doubt who’s in charge, at least for now.

The themes are sex and cars, the lessons are about how to avoid death, the metaphors are religious, and the guitar sound is louder, fuzzier and more dominating then on Walker’s songs on the more tuneful Funeral DressThe key sequence is songs two to six, beginning with “Rigor Mortis” (which, happily, is a primer on how to avoid it in your relationship:  “I will smuggle something in to get me through/I’m resigned that I can’t win this fight with you”) and ending with “Jonah,” a tribute to a backseat of the car lover (“Angels sing around you in a chorus all night long/and you transcribe their expressions in the morning with a song about it”) that might even be Chuck.  Throughout the sequence Walker’s guitar and vocals waver, strain, burst out in surprising places and provide evidence that joy can win out over depression.

Chuck does get several pivotal moments to speak, including one and a half of the two funny songs on the album, “Sun Giant Says Hey” (co-written with Walker) and “God’s Camaro,” in which his longstanding engagement with weirdo Americana produces a genuinely fabulous conceit,  washing the car as washing your sins away.  He also gets the better part of the complaint on the co-written cheating song “Whatz-‘is-name.”

For me, this is a hard moment to be a fan of indie rock, with young writer-guitarists turning toward orchestration as a means to do something new.  While the sound of the new indie is a more honest and organic “art rock” then the trite orchestral guitar sound of 30 year ago, it still moves rock and roll away from the basics some of us have believed in, straight shooting lyrics and a good backbeat.  Wussy finds it’s innovation elsewhere, in places that might seem purely sociological until you perceive how thoroughly and conceptually they are weaved into every note:  the collaboration of musicians and lovers twenty years apart in age, where the riot girl gets to kick the old guy’s ass for the length of an album.  This is not a worn-out fantasy; in fact, it’s damned new. 

 Kenny

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4 Responses to “Wussy’s Left For Dead”

  1. 1 schweitzito

    Wussy’s my favorite of ’07 as of now, too, but it’s not all that far ahead of Neon Bible, whose orchestrations I find fairly breathtaking (though I guess it helps that I let Badly Drawn Boy and to an extent Sufjan Stevens soften me up first.) And what I love about Arcade Fire at the moment is that they’re shooting damn straight.

    The weird thing about Wussy generationally is that the music feels like it should have come before Ass Ponys — rather than emulating the grunge that was prevailing as the AP’s were coming up, it’s both faster and rootsier. Walker’s vocal-verbal commitment is so total it’s hard to imagine she didn’t have major input on the other musical choices as well, but to me it feels like the music Cleaver might have made if he’d started putting out records in the ’80s instead of waiting until he was pushing 30 in 1990.
    This is a band where the words hit early, because they’re so strong, and because the music is fairly bare-boned even when it’s strong, which is nearly always. If Funeral Dress actually had better tunes per se (first and foremost the jaunty and bitter breakup anger-turning-denial “Airborne”), this one actually has richer music, adding new wrinkles to a “basic” style that despite its continued attractions is always threatening to give up its final secrets. But Walker and Cleaver show that all that means is that the older a style gets, the cleverer the artist have to be to tease something new out of it. Wussy has risen to the occasion.

  2. 2 Robert Christgau

    Glad to see somebody’s writing about Wussy besides me. That record keeps getting better for me, though I’m not as sure as you seem to be about its thematic thrust–I still suspect that religion is more than a metaphor, and would love to ask Walker about her religious background, which I suspect is even more Xian than mine. David, didn’t see you at their Cake Shop show March 26. Though I hear from Jason Gross, who also loves the album, that they weren’t so hot at SXSW, this was the best rock show I’ve seen in a long time before the oldest crowd I’ve ever seen on Ludlow Street, including my pal John Rockwell and three sixtysomethings he brought with him, several of whom bought CDs or T-shirts (I also bought a T-shirt). Walker certainly leads the band onstage–Cleaver was always a reluctant front man in the Ass Ponys. He told me they’re already working on another record. Hope they stay at it.

  3. 3 Roach

    “that they weren’t so hot at SXSW”

    They rocked SXSW…even though, after they came back from the east coast tour; they are getting better and better. I am so looking forward to their next disc.

    I’ve heard some of the rejects on woxy.com. OMG, if they are any indication…these guys ROCK!!!


  1. 1 What I listened to in 2007: Notes « Listening Around: In the spirit of Robert Christgau

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