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When a band names a song about lost love and fading hopes after the site of one of America's most infamous prison riots, you can tell they don't spend much time on the sunny side of life, and Wussy hardly sound as if they're brimming with good cheer on their fifth studio effort, Attica! But the album is a compelling reminder that Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker are a pair of top-shelf songwriters who have learned how to make the most of their mixed feelings about the world around them, and their collaborators John Erhardt, Joe Klug, and Mark Messerly have created some beautiful and forbidding soundscapes that are an ideal match for the emotional terrain of these melodies. Wussy never sound bummed out for its own sake on Attica!; instead, these songs deal with the difficult realities of life and love among grown-ups, and Cleaver and Walker have genuine compassion even when there isn't much hope, especially as they dig up the poisoned memories of "Gene, I Dream," beg for the release of a loving heart on "Acetylene," and acknowledge how tragedy scarred them while making them better people on "Beautiful." As vocalists, Cleaver and Walker are perfectly cast for their songs -- the gritty wobble of Cleaver's voice and the weathered beauty of Walker's instrument give their songs a dramatic color that suits them well -- and Erhardt's pedal steel avoids the usual country clich├ęs and invests these melodies with a rich range of ghostly wails and peals. Attica! isn't an album meant to make you forget your troubles, but Wussy's tales of the messy facts of real lives are moving, brave, and thoroughly believable, and the music possesses a rough beauty that's coolly revelatory; this is a first-rate band doing first-rate work, and if you honestly care about American rock at its best, this is music you should get to know.

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