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Tempting as it was to headline this review “WNDY blows,” they’re quite good. This local band started as an acoustic guitar duo, Sam Tuthill and Andrew Lee. Then they got a bass player and drummer, Sean Zarn and Alex Nelson respectively, and developed what they refer to as “alternative prog-rock style.” Normally we think of prog rock as orchestral music with a lot of keyboards, synths and other salad dressing, but WNDY is basic guitar and drums. Still they have a full, lush sound and the songs are adventuresome with many changes in rhythm, melody and mood.
There are eight tracks, which doesn’t seem like much when so many cds these days have 15 or more, but most here clock in at four to six minutes. None of the 20-minute epics we expect from prog rock, but each track feels like a journey of sorts.
These songs have been stewing awhile. On their Bandcamp page there are recordings performed at The Blind Pig in November 2016. (Remember The Blind Pig? Seems a millennia since it shut down.) I’m not sure when the tracks were recorded for this album, which was released just last week, but it feels like they practiced to near-perfection for two years.
The Reader unfortunately can’t print the beautiful album cover painted by Duluth artist Ash Marnich. There are no pockets or dead men on it, but there is a naked woman with a tiger, standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking a lake or ocean, amid snowfall. No doubt some smartass can come up with an example of nudity or worse that the Reader has published some time, but we’re trying to clean it up for the kids.
The cover is described in detail in the first track, “Sliver of a Moon.” The woman is from a dream or a vision a decade ago, “singing songs I know no one had ever sang.” The song starts quiet and builds in intensity to a crashing chorus. Midway through it dwindles to a bare minimum of instruments and guitars before hitting the chorus again. It dwindles again at the end, but cuts off so abruptly that I wondered if it was a glitch in the track. After a few listens, though, the cutoff felt perfect.
“Spider,” the second track, rocks hard mostly throughout with a few lulls. The narrator is idly studying a spider in his window: “I wonder what it wants to do with me / It doesn’t even know my middle name.” He’s in trouble, though, over what seems to be a (lethal?) dispute with the neighbor. Soon it’s not a spider but the sheriff at his window: “I lay my head back on my pillow, maybe then he’ll let me be.” Doubtful.
“If Niagara Falls” is also about getting in trouble with the law, though the unspecified crime is less serious. The narrator and his companion are on a road trip, hoping to get to the title destination before nightfall, “if our bail comes through like they said it might.” And somewhere between Illinois and Cleveland (my hometown; I appreciate the shout-out) his companion busted his nose. (“My issue rests not on the action that he chose.”) It’s a bouncy song, the most cheerful on the album, even though it’s about misfortune.
The music of “Beautiful” is as wistful as the title suggests, featuring skillful harmonizing between Tuthill and Lee. The album kicks into high gear with the fifth track, “Orbiter,” a dark, heavily rocking song with muscular riffs, but the final third of the song is delicate and haunting. I couldn’t decipher the lyrics, though I picked up the line, “When I got home he was still cooking meth.” That may be all you need to know.
The momentum maintains through the next three songs. If this were a vinyl album, A would be the pretty good side and B would be the awesome side. “Tied Up the Horses” is a violent story about the old west, but the music is contemporary rock and roll with long musical passages.
“Ramona Road” sounds a bit like an Alice in Chains song, with the slightly off-key harmonizing that was Layne Staley’s trademark. It starts out slow and trippy and gradually builds to hallucinatory, operatic intensity. It seems to be about the miserable life of a rock star, checking into a hotel while on a drunken bender: “Turn the water on, what an accomplishment, and then you wake up four days later in a pool of blood.” Then later, “You pull the steering wheel, you hit the sand, and then you wake up to a hundred thousand screaming fans.”
The title might be a clue as to who it’s about, but my internet search didn’t turn up anything. I don’t think it’s about Staley, as there’s no Ramona Road in Seattle. Perhaps after deadline I’ll find out and the answer will be head-smackingly obvious. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
The final track, “Forests and Fields,” also starts out sounding like AIC, drawing you with sweet but druggy chords and harmonies. Durned if doesn’t shift into a swift countryesque tune that soon blends with rock beats. By the time it slows down at the end, returning to the melody they started with, they sing the album’s title: “Sleeping soundly in a pocket made for dead men.” It might be depressing if it weren’t so well done.
WNDY’s next show is Friday, April 19, 6 p.m. at Lake Superior Brewing.