What Heaven Is Like

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Very few bands have the ability to build something remarkable out of tales of ordinary lives as Wussy have done so well since they began recording in the mid-2000s. The band's primary songwriters, Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, rarely shoot for big themes and grand gestures, but their lyrical snapshots of dysfunctional relationships and uncertain existence are both artful and vividly real, a brilliantly realized portrait of the random thoughts that keep you awake at 3 a.m. Attica! (2014) and Forever Sounds (2016) found Wussy stepping up their game in both their songwriting and their music, with Cleaver, Walker, and John Erhardt generating an atmospheric cloud bank of guitar sounds while drummer Joe Klug and bassist Mark Messerly implacably moved the music forward with the stubborn insistence of a river. Released in 2018, What Heaven Is Like doesn't necessarily represent a new high-water mark for this band, but it's not a step backwards, either. For a band that can take justifiable pride in its songwriting, it's surprising to see Wussy record a pair of covers, but in each case, the band brings something very much its own to these recordings. The spare acoustic folk of Kath Bloom's "Oblivion" is transformed into something considerably more forbidding when the band adds its layers of guitar and Walker's world-weary voice, and the Twinkeyz's lo-fi new wave chestnut "Aliens in Our Midst" (also covered by Game Theory) gains a whole new level of paranoid insistence thanks to the wobbly fervor of Cleaver's singing. And between the troubled thoughts of wrong roads taken in "One Per Customer," the doomy tale of bad luck in "Tall Weeds," and the contemplation of a life gone wrong in "Nope," nobody can write about things going sour with Wussy's fusion of compassion and unblinking realism. With What Heaven Is Like, Wussy have made it clear they're not giving up their status as one of America's greatest indie bands just yet, and this is another dark but compelling album that deserves your attention.

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