June 20, 2023
Photo: Zachary Chick
Asheville’s twang-gaze five piece, Wednesday, released their newest album, Rat Saw God in April on Dead Oceans, garnering respect from nearly every indie music publication since. Fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Karly Hartzman, the songs broadcast liminal transmissions from Southern backyards and burbs, spotlighting the beauty in the still, unloved corners of a mundane Carolinian upbringing. Through Hartzman’s careful, molasses-tinged storytelling, the band spins honest yarns of local lore, misspent youth, drug abuse, and the beautiful boredom of existence. The album’s angsty anticipation is captured by MJ Lenderman’s dynamic, fuzzy guitar and Xandy Chelmis’ aching pedal steel. Grunge-inspired bass by Margo Schulz and drums by Alan Miller create a lingering suspense throughout.
Rat Saw God roars with the voice of a new Americana, one that fearlessly and poetically melds influences like the annihilating noise of My Bloody Valentine with Drive-By Truckers’ Southern drawl. Each intimate song plunges into the next with an urgent apprehension, restrained by the powerful agitated melancholy of ‘90s alt-rock. The compositions are tense like a flickering streetlight, loudly buzzed on the dread of living and not living. This is the fifth studio album by Wednesday but the band has always tried to champion the uneasy emotions of growing up in any given Nowheresville. On the band’s 2021 album, Twin Plagues, Hartzman expressed her own stylings of Southern Gothic realism and the band was boosted to an international focus. On Rat Saw God, reflective mentions of roadside turkey vultures, Sunday school, race car drivers, cul-de-sacs and dogwoods, Dollar Generals and Narcan lay the landscape of the band’s narrative. The album’s sound merges punk lawlessness, the classic gold of country, and the velvety drowning of shoegaze.
“Hot Rotten Grass Smell” rips open the album with shrieking guitars and pummeling drums before abruptly fizzing out to the serene sound of dusk-awakened crickets from a quiet Carolina summer evening. The hurtling eight-minute-long odyssey “Bull Believer” was the album’s first released single and features a quiet-loud oscillation as Hartzman’s vocals crescendo into an epic wailing, purging noise outro. The sun-spackled, sepia-toned mourn of Chelmis’ pedal steel provides a dripping sweetness to songs like the burning “Formula One” and the drug-addled coming-of-age confessional of “Chosen To Deserve.” The melodies and textures of the latter push and sway in a way they shouldn’t, like a rocking chair’s comfort in a dark dive bar. “Chosen To Deserve,” the second single, continues to stand out as one of the top listens on Rat Saw God.
Extended squeals of guitar add a pinching bitterness against gnashing rhythms on “Quarry” where Hartzman’s rambling blue-collar narrative shows she’s a whiz at coming up with modern-day proverbs like “Sweet talk never lasts and you learn to go on without it.” The brief, calculated patience of “What’s So Funny” toward the end of the album scales back instrumentation the way the tired sunsets on itself. Hartzman croons through the haze encouraging the listener to learn from the pains of the past as she lilts, “memory always twists the light, nothing will ever be as vivid as the darkest time of my life.” Album closer “TV in the Gas Pump” chronicles the distant yearn of what Hartzman wants out of life against what the humdrum assembly line of reality.
Wednesday manages to collage stories of mundanity into great tapestries of life with the beautiful brazen punk of alt-country and vast rapture of fuzzed-out guitar. Rat Saw God may be one of the most comprehensive and exciting releases of the year. The band’s authenticity shines through in grainy experimentalism and creates resolution, taking up space by coming just as they are.