Artist: Rat Saw God
Sub-Genres: Slacker Rock, Shoegaze, Noise Rock
Label: Dead Oceans
Non-Airable Tracks: Hot Rotten Grass Smell, TV In The Gas Pump
If the musical landscape of the 2020's has proven one thing, it is that shoegaze is BACK. After a decade of extremely uninteresting releases in the genre (save for some great comeback albums from genre staples My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive), this new generation of shoegazers have succeeded in advancing the genre's sound beyond fuzzed-out guitars, whereas the majority of 2010's shoegaze was much more interested in imitating their 90's influences in a copy-paste manner (cough cough Whirr). I had my musical coming-of-age with classics like Loveless, Souvlaki, and Bloweyelashwish, but after a couple years I "grew out" of the genre due to a lack of truly interesting new bands in the scene. Fortunately, newer bands have reinvigorated my interest in the genre by mixing the sonic qualities of shoegaze with other genres they pull influence from. Full Body 2 is an extremely exciting shoegaze band that also incorporates Drum and Bass. Knifeplay's newest record Animal Drowning pulls from folk rock, slowcore, and post rock. Wednesday, on their newest record Rat Saw God, bring strong alt-country influences to the table, often flexing their abilities in that genre much more than they do shoegaze. While I doubt Wednesday would fully consider themselves a shoegaze band, I believe they remain one of the most exciting acts in the genre or it's periphery, and that this new record is their strongest output yet.
As some members of Kamp Student Radio may know, I have been looking forward to the release of this album since Bull Believer was released as a single last September. I had already been a fan of some of Wednesday's earlier output as well as guitarist MJ Lenderman's latest solo record Boat Songs, but this single blew away any expectations I had for a new Wednesday song. At eight and a half minutes in length, the track never feels like it's dragging on, as it's constantly throwing something new at the listener whether it be sonically or lyrically. Karly Hartzman's vocal performance has been criticized by some for being too deadpan, but her delivery perfectly matches the understated yet deeply personal lyricism. She draws listeners in through lowkey, Jason Molina-esque vocal passages before eventually giving some of the most passionate, intense performances the genre has ever seen at the song's climax. On the sonic end, this song demands to be played at maximum volume. Layers of buzzing guitars surround the listener in every direction, and the innovative use of steel guitar across this song recontextualizes the instrument not as a device for sweet melodies in country music, but rather a tool for creating sinister noises that the average distorted guitar is incapable of.
One of my few complaints with this record is that this song is track 2 of 10. What happens after Bull Believer is still an extremely impressive body of songwriting and technical skill, but none of the songs have the same punch to the gut feeling the listener is made to feel so early on. Other singles such as Chosen to Deserve and Bath County showcase the band's ability to juxtapose alt-country songwriting with noisy and abrasive guitar tones, and despite not having the same overall emotional impact as Bull Believer, still make this album a remarkable experience from front to back. I think a lot of my issues with track sequencing would be fixed if Bull Believer were somewhere on Side B instead, but having it work as a bold opening statement (albeit after the very short and fun Hot Rotten Grass Smell) is probably the second best place to have put this in the track listing. This song just seems to sonically overshadow a lot of the songs it is surrounded by at no fault of the band.
Despite the powerful presence of this standout track, the record retains an unexpected level of cohesion through it's willingness to blend alt-country and shoegaze aesthetics so seamlessly that the end-product is uniquely Wednesday's. Hartzman's lyrics take the mundane and make something spiritual out of them. The ennui of modern American life has never felt so explicitly stated in song. In fact, I think there is an apt comparison to be drawn between this record and the new Boygenius record, the record (boo!). At times the two albums employ similar lyrical techniques, but Rat Saw God uses this hyper-personal and autobiographical approach to invite the listener into a world of Wednesday's own, while the record, despite coming from the songwriting powerhouses of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus, sonically and lyrically reads as the result of Urban Outfitters opening their own record label. The lyrics on Rat Saw God are cutting and raw, their delivery just as much so. I've never been to the Planet Fitness parking lot where someone died (Bath County), nor any of the other locations written about on this album, but Hartzman sings and writes in a way that allows me to draw connections between these places and places that serve similar psyhological functions in my real life. For me that's in Yuma, Arizona: The Lin's Buffet where someone was shot and killed, the abandoned K-Mart on Ave B & 32nd Street, The tiny houses along the train tracks with cryptic writing on the walls. I'm willing to bet everyone has their own form of these locations that they relate back to, the places where one has comedically observed in shock and awe the creations of man and the failures of capitalism. There's a mental exchange going on where the listener is allowed to be amused at the specifics of Hartzman's life and surroundings while reflecting on their own.
All in all, this is probably my favorite record of the year so far, and this is definitely Wednesday's best output yet! While this record feels like a genre-standout that will come to define early 2020's indie rock, it's evident that the band's best work is still ahead of them. Since 2020's I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone (or even MJ Lenderman's 2019 self-titled record), the members of Wednesday have consistently put out better and better records, culminating here with an album that is gathering them much-deserved recognition and praise in the scene. This album is sick as hell, and I would easily recommend it to anyone with even a drop of interest in any of the genres this record is listed as.
It's been a while since I've written a review. I don't remember if I usually give albums number ratings but I would give this album an 8/10. Masterful indie songwriting and instrumentation that completely outpaces the band's contemporaries while leaving room for expansion on future releases.
I'll end this review with an image of a really beautiful shirt Wednesday is selling on their bandcamp, where you can also buy this album!
Chosen to Deserve
What's So Funny
Reviewer’s Name: George Romero
Date of Review: April 18, 2023