A couple of weeks ago I posted a ramble about my difficulty in coming to terms with folk music, and my reluctant realisation that I don’t actually seem to be too interested in any music that strays too far from the uptempo three minute pop song Motown/Beatles/new wave template. And as if to prove my point I’ve recently stumbled across and subsequently gotten obsessed with a band from Cincinnati who deal exclusively with hooks and riffs and catchy bits and conversational lyrics detailing loves lost and found and wished for. They’re called Wussy, and they operate so far inside my comfort zone it’s simply unseemly.
There’s nothing revolutionary about this group’s music, and there’s no unique selling point. It’s a bog standard set-up: one drummer, one bass player and two guitarists who write the songs and take turns in singing them. One of the singers is fifty-something Chuck Cleaver, whose grizzled beardy appearance and frail, papery singing voice are both gratifyingly consistent with his splendid name, the other is the somewhat younger Lisa Walker, whose vocals are stronger but still flecked with enough imperfections to reassure you this outfit has no truck with auto-tune or Pro Tools. The band’s sound is similarly on the raw and slangy and droney side, though you couldn’t call it sloppy, and while the sound of the guitars never betrays much in the way of treatment or effects they always seem to be just about in tune. This is, as I’m sure John Peel used to say in reference to his beloved Fall records, exactly as it should be.
No, the reason you should listen to Wussy is nothing to do with aural sensationalism and everything to do with the quality of their songs, which exhibit an almost Buzzcocks level of consistent brilliance. They’ve released four albums and an EP since 2005, and more or less every one of the 49 tracks on them is worthy of your attention, either because they boast choruses you can’t shake out of your head or because they feature words that seem cynical or throwaway on the surface but actually cut as deep as Bob Dylan’s finest or because it’s just a splendid uplifting racket that you can imagine witnessing at your local pub and it being the best gig you’ve ever been to. Cleaver’s songs tend to be more world-weary and rueful, and although he does drop the odd profanity here and there he always makes you feel like he’s earned the right to. Walker’s though are the real jewels: she’s got that rare intuitive talent for constructing simple and fresh sounding songs from very familiar chord sequences and harmonic patterns. My advice if you’re curious is to start with the songs beginning with M, one from each of the four albums: Motorcycle, Mayflies, Maglite and Magnolia are all indelible melodic nuggets that feel like established classics the first time you hear them.
Anyway, they’re going to be touring the UK in the Autumn, with any luck in small enough venues that I’ll be able to see the whites of their eyes. Watch this space for further developments.
Wussy discography: Funeral Dress (2005), Left For Dead (2007), Rigor Mortis EP (2008), Wussy (2009), Funeral Dress II – Acoustically (2011), Strawberry (2011). I don’t think any of these have been officially released in the UK, but there seem to be (legal) downloads available for some of them.