Album Review: Cut Worms – Cut Worms

Max Clarke's third album as Cut Worms takes the best bits of 60s pop and turns it into something breath-taking and entirely unique

Country pop and rock ‘n’ roll mean very different things in 2023 than they did in 1958. By current standards, to call Cut Worms the best marriage of those genres in the longest time would probably lead you to all the wrong conclusions. However, if you pine for more contemporary acts to reference the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, then pull up a seat. We’ve a lot to talk about.

Max Clarke is on album number three under his Cut Worms alias. Album number one, Hollow Ground, felt like amber Californian sunshine radiating out from your speakers. Album number two Nobody Lives Here Anymore added a sense of depth and adventure that placed Cut Worms in similar territory to Kevin Morby and Whitney.

Cut Worms - Living Inside (Official Video)

Album number three finds Clarke trimming away everything that can be trimmed away. Generally, when a band opts to self-title an album other than their debut, it’s usually a signifier that this is the album, the one that drills deep into the core of what they represent. Cut Worms deserves that status. It’s not only Clarke’s finest set of songs yet, it’s produced with a warm clarity that accentuates every heavenly hook. And there are plenty of those.

Twangy opener ‘Don’t Fade Out’ is a classic country-tinged heartbreaker, Clarke’s protagonist sensing his beloved is pulling away and issuing the titular plea across the growing gulf. The doo-wapish ‘Take It And Smile’ rides along on a swirling carnival organ, Clarke once again on the outs with love and finding no consolation.

Cut Worms - Ballad of the Texas King (Official Video)

Lead single ‘The Ballad Of The Texas King’ is an early highlight, cavernous reverb adding to the song’s sinister themes, balanced beautifully by a sparkling, descending melody. The languid ‘I’ll Never Make It’ feels like a song in search of a couple to sway across the linoleum floor of a suburban kitchen to its lovesick tones. ‘Is It Magic?’ sounds like the kind of thing that would play in a 50s movie set in Hawaii, right as the sun goes down and the couples lean closer.

It’s appropriate that the D’Addario brothers of The Lemon Twigs contribute to ‘Don’t Fade Out’ and ‘Living Inside’. Clarke shares their love of near-forgotten sounds and is just as adept at weaving them into a form that feels totally adrift in time. As the soul-stirring ballad ‘Too Bad’ brings the curtain down on the 10 best songs that Clarke has written, it’s apparent that he’s not just a songwriter living in the wrong decade. He’s more a time-travelling magpie, collecting what he needs and assembling something glittering and gorgeous from the best bits.

Released: 21 July 2023
Label: Jagjaguwar
On Tour: TBC