Forever Sounds

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Chuck Cleaver already sounded like a craggy, bitterly resigned old man when he founded the Ass Ponys near the end of the '80s, and in the 2010s his voice has changed little but suits him better than ever as a guy in his mid-fifties who is still writing about lost souls and poor decision making in the forgotten corners of Cincinnati, Ohio. With fellow vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Lisa Walker, who brings a certain resigned optimism to the picture as the complement to Cleaver's flinty realism, Wussy have quietly become one of the finest independent bands America has to offer, and on 2016's Forever Sounds, they sound as if they're making a bid to expand their boundaries to the Universe and beyond. Built from layers of richly atmospheric guitar sounds and processed vocals that echo and buzz through the valleys of reverb and fuzz, Forever Sounds suggests Wussy are transmitting from some other planet, as if they're keeping an eye on Ohio from outer space, and while bitterness doesn't play much of a part in these songs, these stories mostly focus on people getting by in spite of their circumstances, and when Cleaver and Walker sing about "Better Days," it's painfully obvious they represent an improvement in only the most relative sense. But if Wussy see a world of darkness in "She's Killed Hundreds" and "Gone," there's also a sense of dim but real hope and flashes of joy in "Hello, I'm a Ghost," "Sidewalk Sale," and the spectral closer "My Parade" that demonstrate Wussy have found real reasons to believe in their fallen world. And between the evocative guitar work from Cleaver and Walker, the striking keyboards and steel guitar from John Erhardt, and the superlative rhythm section of Mark Messerly on bass and Joe Klug on drums, this may well be Wussy's most powerful-sounding album to date, creating sonic backdrops that are every bit as fascinating as the lyrics they accompany. Given how consistently good Wussy have become, calling Forever Sounds a masterpiece would probably be wildly premature, but this is a deeply satisfying work that reveals new pleasures with repeated listens, and reminds listeners this band is still expanding on what they do best. Who knows, if they keep it up, they might be able to quit their day jobs some fine day.

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