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Wussy: Strong Work, And Not Without Pain

Wussy, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based quartet, recently released its third album, called simply Wussy. The band is led by singer-songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker.

"It's alright, we've got all night," Cleaver and Walker sing in "Little Paper Birds," the lead-off cut on their new album. And indeed, in their measured ways, Wussy's songs do exude a serene confidence in the strength of the music. It conveys the delicacy and fragility of the emotions they want to describe.

It also helps that "Little Paper Birds" includes a line that the band must have known would charm anyone who still uses the postal system: "I finally got your letter and your punctuation hit me like a truck."

Wussy certainly knows how to turn a phrase. On "Gone Missing," Walker sings, "Now my heart is on my sleeve, or what's left of it." What does the "it" refer to? Her sleeve? Her heart? The latter is more poetic.

On the other hand, Wussy music strives to avoid easy poetry, going for something more conversational yet striving for a quality of open-ended allusiveness that more difficult poetry achieves. The band is also more than capable of coming up with a catchy up-tempo chorus, as they do on the otherwise-bleak "Happiness Bleeds."

You can listen to Wussy as a concept album propelled forward by the band's buzz saw guitar riffs and tight little rhythm section. Just as Cleaver and Walker write most of the songs and either alternate lead vocals or sing them in harmony, the album itself becomes a short story about two people in a complicated relationship.

If the album begins with the sentiment "We've got all night," as the collection progresses, the emotions become more mixed — well, actually, more morose and fatalistic.

The song "Dreadful Sorry" comes about mid-way thru this lengthy dissection of a couple about to split. Over increasing louder, chiming guitars, with Cleaver and Walker raising their voices to be heard and to convey tension, they sing as one, "Some call this living but I call this living alone." Uh-oh.

By the climax of the album, the narrator of "Death By Misadventure" finds a note on the door saying, "Go away I'm sleeping."

"And so I leave," the lyric goes on, "but I believe that you're entertaining someone else." It's an almost elegant way to describe a betrayal, a final conclusion.

It also works as a serious pun — the someone else that music is entertaining, as morose as it is full of life, is us. The very next song is called "This Will Not End Well." Well, maybe not for Wussy, but it does for us.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.