The acclaimed North Carolina quintet refine and accentuate everything that's made them one of the most exciting bands around
Possibly my least favourite phrase in the English language (up there with “thanks for reaching out”) is “something for everyone”. It implies a kind of dull, bland lack of adventure and invention, like chain hotels and international all-you-can-eat buffets. But one thing I’ve discovered in sharing Wednesday with friends over the last few weeks is that there’s something for most people. I’m not going to recommend it to my mum but there’s a unifying power here that feels unique within their field of sonically adventurous guitar bands. A kind of Succession for the right-minded indie crowd.
So you like alt-country? Here, try the wonderful, poppy, twangy ‘Chosen To Deserve’. Oh, hello Big Thief obsessive, you’re going to dig this band that mixes offbeat introspection and epic improvisation. Listen to the explosive ‘Bull Believer’ and thank me later. So fuzzed-out indie rock is your thing? ‘Quarry’ is going to blow your mind.
Not that anything about Rat Saw God is swinging for the middle of the road or mainstream acceptability. Anything but. You’re not prioritising crossover success when you’ve got an 8-minute song (‘Bullfight Believer’) that climaxes with screams of “Finish him” over bludgeoning distortion, while bullfighting, Mortal Kombat and country music history collide in a thematic pile-up. Even less so when that song is the one you chose to announce your new album.
Wednesday specialise in wrong-footing you in the best ways. Opener ‘Hot Rotten Grass Smell’ gives you four seconds of muted guitar before setting fire to the whole thing. ‘Got Shocked’ starts like a slow country ballad but keeps speeding up for its first 15 seconds, leaving you unsure if it’s still accelerating when it’s reached its destination. It’s even more disconcerting then, when they follow it with an actual slow country ballad (‘Formula One’) that doesn’t do anything other than lay you out flat.
In the centre of all of this is ‘Chosen To Deserve’, probably the catchiest song that Wednesday have written. Karly Hartzman’s high, plaintive twang wraps itself around some of her best lyrics as she lays out her stall to a lover, explaining: “We always started by tellin’ all our best stories first / So now that it’s been a while I’ll get around / To tellin’ you all my worst / Just so you know what you signed up for”. There’s no small amount of “how dumb am I?” humour in her anecdotes and a specificity that feels properly lived in, but then comes that wrong-footing again with the resignedly romantic: “Thank God that I was chosen to deserve you / ‘Cause I’m the girl that you were chosen to deserve”. Unpicking the knotty contradictions in the words “chosen” and “deserve” is almost as much fun as the song itself.
Over the decades, we’ve been led to believe that small-town life was something to be escaped and transcended if you wanted to create. Wednesday dismiss that cliché effectively, weaving their Southern origins into every aspect of their music, from Xandy Chelmis’s lap steel crying gigantic tears all over ‘Chosen To Deserve’ to Hartzman’s enchanting drawl and her lyrics and song titles that speak of honest authenticity. It’s heartening to hear a band grow and blossom while remaining thoroughly entrenched in their surroundings.
By the end of ‘TV In The Gas Pump’, Rat Saw God has offered so many threads that Wednesday could pull to lead them to their next destination. Whichever route they choose, the band’s future looks overwhelmingly promising. Four albums in (five if you count last year’s great covers album Mowing The Leaves Instead Of Piling ‘Em Up) plus guitarist MJ Lenderman’s acclaimed solo releases, and Wednesday’s trajectory is headed progressively stratospheric.