Album review: ‘I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone’ by Wednesday

There’s the teenage-hood I lived and then there’s the filtered and edited version I retell: My hair a little better, my acne more under control, my social graces more on point, the 1980s less interminable and less gripped in the chill of the Cold War. I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone, the first full-band release from Asheville-based indie/shoegaze collective, Wednesday, plays like a soundtrack to those fuzzed-out, coming-of-age years — not as they happened, but as many of us would have wished them to unfurl on a stuttering, slightly out-of-focus home video.

By that, I mean, it’s hazy music, though not at all blurry. It’s urgent, though not at all strident. Karly Hartzman’s stunning vocal cuts through crunchy guitars (Hartzman and Daniel Gorham) on “Love Has No Pride (Condemned).” The song has a Mazzy Star drift — meditative and narcotic — with the iconic, melancholy strums traded in for a wash of electric melody. But Xandy Chelmis’ steel guitar adds a familiar wail, rounding out the moody blueprint.

According to the band (including drummer Alan Miller), the album melds “elements of shoegaze, grunge, indie-pop and Southern American.” All are, indeed, present and accounted for, though in Wednesday’s capable hands, those touchstones take on new shapes and textures.

The slow, murky guitars of “November” are the bedrock from which Hartzman’s voice rises. Jake Lenderman adds background vocals, seemingly from some distance, but that extra voice allows Hartzman the opportunity to harmonize here and there, with all the unforced cool of an afterthought. The track doesn’t pick up intensity until its final minute, but the swell of percussion and guitars rising to meet the voices feels urgent. There’s the ghost of The Cranberries lurking within the notes, but nothing about Wednesday’s offerings has been polished. The bite remains: That’s a good thing.

“Maura” is a tantrum, a downhill race, a thrashing assault across the dance floor. High notes are flung with the abandon of elbows; the pummel is an adrenaline rush and, afterward, a release. But there are pockets of calm within the song — crisp moments of silence before the melee gathers for its next surge. The band has total control: If nothing else proves it, Hartzman’s vocal, centered so clearly within the sonic barrage, showcases the precision of creative vision and execution.

In the liner notes, Hartzman describes her lyrics as “attempts to access old personal memories and do them justice through prose, with inspiration from the writings of Richard Brautigan, Flannery O’Connor, David Berman and Tom Robbins, and movies like Steel Magnolias.”

There isn’t a title track, but the poetry of the album’s moniker warrants reflection. The names of the collection’s eight tracks almost make up a story — that kind of surreal, late-night whisper session between good friends as sleep closes in. “Underneath,” “Coyote,” “November” … is this part of the list from the narrator who was trying to describe one person to another?

It’s the album’s lead track, “Fate Is …” — the shortest offering at under three minutes — that feels the most fully realized of the collection. It’s a bracing crush of sounds, an ache of lyrics and an on-a-dime finish. The song is dark and brisk and almost poppy. But juxtaposed with the next track, “Billboard” — a slower and more contemplative exploration of noise and emotion — another story, shrouded in intrigue, emerges.

The final track, “Revenge of the Lawn,” has something of a false start. It plays like an outtake, but also like a desperate lullaby. Hartzman’s voice is upfront and the guitar remains simple. It’s a thoughtful way to wrap the dreamy sequence, holding the listener for just a couple more minutes in the world that Wednesday so completely manifests. And it’s a world just a little bit more soft focused, well drawn and emotive than the one we actually live in, so remaining there is a pleasure.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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