Sound track: We Can All Relate

The Stump Mutts’ newest album, We Can All Relate (released in November), takes its title from the chorus of the track, “Ignorance Bring Bliss”: “Hey, we can all relate. Let’s sing along and play, don’t question anything.” That song, a driving — though mid-tempo — rocker pairs heavy bass (John Lindsey), guitars (Neal Ward and Derek Allen) and the kind of percussion (Patrick Wells) that’s as voracious as it is limber. The bridge, however, is a cool shimmer of strings sliced with atmospheric noise. This is an album of astute production and delicate balances.

Lead song “Paranoia” follows similar sonic themes. Its intro rumbles and leaps between low and high notes before exploding with snare and cymbal. Ward’s vocal builds in intensity — and it’s an intense song — but he only occasionally pushes his voice to its ragged edge. Even as the Stump Mutts’ songs are constructs of dynamics over harmonics, Ward is able to convey a calm emotionalism.

This is especially the case on “Leaving Day,” a melodic power ballad. The guitars bob and weave, the drums jog, instrumental breaks are crisp between verses. Here, singing about heartbreak, Ward’s voice is smooth and almost soulful. It’s not until the song’s final 30 seconds, with the line, “This f**king pain it comes again, I can barely breathe,” that the vocal takes on the dimensions of a savage punch. Delayed gratification pays off.

“Pressure Cooker” ramps up the energy with churning rhythms and a kind of menace that’s been mounting throughout the album. But even in its most aggressive and gritty moments the song maintains a polished sheen. The combustive power in the guitars — especially in a swirling and cleanly psychedelic instrumental — is controlled. Even as Ward snarls a verse, he holds his pitch.

Final track, “lschool,” is an acoustic offering. Still, the Stump Mutts keep the musicianship tight and the pace bracing. Quick strums matched with tart rhythms deftly underscore the insouciance of the lyrics. Proof that the local alt-rock band can carry off its well-honed sound either plugged or unplugged is a nice touch to a solid album.

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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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