Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to achieve. Think of The Kinks. A song like “Waterloo Sunset”, the timeless Ray Davies classic, manages to be both easily memorable and emotionally complex all at once. Sometimes listening to a song is like a doorway to a different life. More than the sum of their parts, you know them instantly, yet the songs always have that quality. “Jungleland”, the epic Springsteen song off Born to Run is another. An entire landscape of striving and pain unfolds in a few minutes, pulling you in from the first notes, whether you hear it while buying a six in a bodega or after dropping the needle on to vinyl, surrounded by expensive speakers. The song doesn’t care – it still produces that unexplainable connection. There are albums you listen to, and there it is. You play it again. You still don’t know why exactly but it’s undeniable. That pull. And with a handful of simple, almost lo-fi songs, American Wrestlers have produced a raw, rough-hewn album of singular beauty.
No moments of glossy pretense. If art should feel like all the moments you can’t talk about out loud, then American Wrestlers is wrestling with art.
The new album is the first thing I’ve heard in a very long time that changes when you listen to it, morphs and grows, developing as you become more accustomed to different parts, the guitar, the iconoclastic voice, the feel that isn’t like anything else out there.
“Kelly” is a brilliant bit of song craft. Just that switch between the singer songwriter moodiness and the insane hook in the chorus, an incredibly intuitive mixture of guitar and voice, the way it caresses the syllables of the words. And then that guitar run comes in and that’s it. It’s called hook for a reason.
The watery, shaky cheerfulness of “I Can Do No Wrong” with its serious undercurrents that the carefully constructed song structure almost hides. No matter. “Nothing is a crime,” he sings.” I can do no wrong…lately.” That wobbly guitar riff. Celebration of ego or foreshadowing of disaster – either possibility is wide open.
“The Rest of You” has the feeling of long highways heading to horizons yet unknown. Another chorus that heads upwards. All good. Then that ending, shade and light, just another deceptively simple run of notes that draws a line through the nearly Radiohead-like vocal, sudden emotional confusion.
The distortion on “Cheapshot”, the way the song doesn’t feel the need to fill every space. Dynamic range, that chord progression. The way it expands into a choral moodiness with a mixture of simplicity and filigree delicacy that hurts, just a little.
This all sounds too good to be lo-fi.
And if the title means anything, it’s American like the quarterback or the girl with the big smile, finally revealing all the darkness they’ve been hiding. Maybe it’s a perfect album for this moment in history, one filled with secrets discovered and corruption unveiled. Or maybe it’s just a brilliant record, a million stories waiting in each song, telling more tales with each listen.