Wussy – Funeral Dress

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Chuck Cleaver formed Wussy after the release of Ass Ponys’s last album, for all I know on a whim (which is as good a reason as any other). While undeniably relying on Cleaver’s idiosyncratic songwriting and unmistakable voice (and to some unknown extent, his guitar-playing), Wussy’s special character comes from the contributions of songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Lisa Walker. Less country and more indie than Ass Ponys, Wussy retains the small town Rust Belt focus, with Cleaver doling out the weirdness and Walker both giving the band a foundation with her more personal songs and elevating all the material with her voice. There is a morbid melancholia to much of their work (the first two albums are titled Funeral Dress and Left for Dead) that might be difficult for some, but this is among the best, most mature and assured music of the 2000s.

What I Think of This Album

Cleaver and Walker basically split the songwriting here – sometimes sharing credit – with multi-instrumentalist (and secret weapon) Mark Messerly contributing on a few songs as well. The draw here – apart from the songwriting, of course – is the way Walker and Cleaver’s voices intersect and interact. Walker, an exponentially better singer, is the trellis around which Cleaver’s falsetto winds, sometimes branching off where it shouldn’t but always returning to the framework set down by Walker. This all comes against a backdrop of energetic guitar sounds and primitive drumming from admitted neophyte Dawn Berman.

Opener “Airborne” is a devastating breakup song (“when something from the ‘yours’ pile / Shattered on the floor tile / And you went off like Frankenstein”). A nasty drone dominates “Funeral Dress” (with a chord pattern that mimics the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks,” of all things), and Walker and Cleaver strain to paint an oddly life-affirming song against the backdrop of pinching pennies in order to look good in a casket; swoops of keyboard and guitar are the icing on this, the tastiest cake at the wake. Walker sounds downright angelic on the morbid “Soak It Up” (“I found a bullet while you were finding god”), which tackles suicide, alcoholism, hurricanes, and haircuts obtained during times of emotional turmoil. Cleaver memorably writes “I wish my head had a tap / And I wish my mind had a drain / So I could shunt my fears away” on the anguished “Shunt.” The chiming and blue “Conversation Lags” paints a simple picture of regret (“I still miss her laughing / When the conversation lags”), with an excellent descending guitar riff. The mournful harmonica on “Crooked” might distract you from Walker and Cleaver’s voices and the lyrics about cicadas, but don’t let it.

“Humanbrained Horse” has nowhere to go but up with a title like that, and indeed, Walker fucking nails the lovely melody and Cleaver’s funny lyrics (“Humanbrained horse / Ten cents admission / A wonder of course / But I have my suspicions / Is he smarter than me”), while Messerly does a fine job on bells, accordion, and (I think) melodica; parts of the melody remind me of Soul Asylum’s “String of Pearls.” Walker mixes religion, disatisfaction, and internal combustion engines in the standout “Motorcycle,” while Cleaver attempts to one-up her by blending the sad and the horny on “Yellow Cotton Dress,” which nonetheless quickly devolves into single-minded misery (“The silverware you used is on the table still / Someone else will have to move it because I never will”) with no loss in musical sprightliness; the bells on this are divine. The tender “Don’t Leave Just Now” is a perfect closer, with the “garbage trucks [ ] on parade” slowly rumbling off into the sunset. This is a hell of a debut. The album was recorded by Ass Pony Bill Alletzhauser.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Motorcycle,” but almost any song qualifies.

Release Date

December, 2005

The Cover Art

Designed by Walker, this has a weirdly amateurish and off-putting look. The band name looks like it’s stitched? Everything about this cover makes me uncomfortable.

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