Now in it tenth year, one of Cincinnati’s most celebrated bands, Wussy (led by former Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver and his equally skilled songwriting partner/co-frontperson Lisa Walker), has amassed an amazing discography so far. Beginning with 2005’s Funeral Dress, the group quickly developed a reputation for the “ragged glory” of its performances, both live and on record. That sense of recklessness worked impossibly well with the band’s fractured, soul-burrowing love songs and the unbridled tense, passionate energy between its co-leaders. Early on, Wussy often sounded on the verge of falling apart, but there was always something magical about the group that assured you that, even if by Scotch tape and rubber bands, the band would hold it together.
But with each successive release, Wussy’s edge-of-cliff nature gradually dissipated. By the time of the rockers’ third album, an eponymous affair in 2009, Wussy had become a more confident, cohesive unit. But not in the way, say, Paul Westerberg went from alcoholic Punk poet to “mature” singer/songwriter. As the band’s fourth full-length, Strawberry, shows, Wussy isn’t getting boring. They’re just getting better.Left for Dead were, is almost scary.
Every Wussy album to date is connected by Cleaver and Walker’s distinct vocals, astonishing songwriting and lyrical quirkiness/poetic genius, as well as utility dude Mark Messerly’s tasteful, remarkably creative ornamentation. But, outside of that, each album has been fairly different from the previous one. Strawberry is not only the most accomplished record in the Wussy catalog, it’s also the band’s most dynamic and diverse.
Strawberry features a few psychedelic nuggets that are truly mesmerizing. The flowing “Little Miami” chugs along on a bed of chiming guitar pricks, wavering, tremelo-ed chords and plodding Velvet Underground drums as Walker sings a melody that’s somehow both big-sky expansive and whispered-in-your-ear intimate. Similarly, lead-off track “Asteroid” has a bit of Pscyh Rock glaze, with a single phrase repeated over the skyward, Theremin-drenched rocking. Elsewhere, “Chicken” is a sultry, slinky track PJ Harvey would be proud to call her own and cuts like the Pere Ubu-ish “Pulverized” and the snarling “Fly Fly Fly” provide a Punk Rock counterpoint to gentler songs like Walker’s beautiful, piano-driven ballad “Magnolia” and Cleaver’s melancholic “Waiting Room.”
There are some brilliant lyrics on Strawberry. Too many to mention, actually, but here’s an early favorite from “Wrist Rocket”: “I didn’t know what you had planned/Til you removed the ampersand/From in between your name and mine.”
As usual, you might have as much fun reading the lyric sheet as listening to the music. Together, they make for a completely engrossing listening experience.
Wussy celebrates the release of Strawberry this Saturday at the Northside Tavern, as part of local music promo company The Counter Rhythm Group's first anniversary celebration. Click here to sample a few tracks from Wussy's latest. Local newcomers Slack Panther open. (A version of this review appears in CityBeat's Oct. 26 issue.)