Steve Wynn / Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3

Northern Aggression

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For nearly 30 years, Steve Wynn has remarkably -- and some would say stubbornly -- kept his own counsel when it comes to songwriting, performing, and recording, and he has never been one to follow trends or allow himself to be influenced unduly by flavor-of-the-month recording techniques. His solo records, after the Dream Syndicate split, have been consistent no matter what direction he's pursued. While it's true some are better than others, all are worth hearing -- most of them repeatedly. Northern Aggression with his current outfit the Miracle 3 is cut close to the straight-up post-psych rock & roll bone. Opener "Resolution" -- with its rounded snare, controlled feedback, and brooding E-Bow guitars that mushroom in near dissonance on the chorus -- is evidence enough, but the pleasure meter only rises from here. There is a spooky cover of the obscure (and anonymous) "The Death of Donny B" from a '60s soundtrack for an anti-drug propaganda film. For Wynn, there may be irony or not; his voice gives nothing away as the spare yet echo-laden production, shuffling drum kit, brief haunting blues guitar fills, and his restrained vocal transform the tune into one of his own. There is a compelling folk-rock jangle that opens "The Other Side" but evolves into a driven, rising anthem. Keyboards do adorn "No One Ever Drowns," but the guitars take center stage, rifling through changes quickly and propulsively. The refrain explodes, riding a rail of barely contained order. “We Don’t Talk About It” rides a snaky yet rumbling guitar riff into pure garage fervor. Wynn's senses of irony and tightly controlled dynamics walk the knife's edge of tension between the points of disgust and rage. "On the Mend" is balls-out energy with a swirling organ added to the cacophonous mix of basses, drums, and very electric guitars. Instrumentation aside, what makes the tracks on Northern Aggression so impressive is Wynn's craft as a songwriter: from lyrics (which are among the best he's written) to melody to production, there isn't anything extra, yet everything feels abundantly full. The album is not only perfectly balanced; it stands out as a bright (black) light amid the dross of postmillennial rock.

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