Dead Oceans (2023) US
A Wednesday song is a quilt. A short story collection, a half-memory, a patchwork of portraits of the American south, disparate moments that somehow make sense as a whole. Karly Hartzman, the songwriter/vocalist/guitarist at the helm of the project, is a story collector as much as she is a storyteller: a scholar of people and one-liners. Rat Saw God, the Asheville quintet's new and best record, is ekphrastic but autobiographical and above all, deeply empathetic. Across the album's ten tracks Hartzman, guitarist MJ Lenderman, bassist Margo Shultz, drummer Alan Miller, and lap/pedal steel player Xandy Chelmis build a shrine to minutiae. Half-funny, half-tragic dispatches from North Carolina unfurling somewhere between the wailing skuzz of Nineties shoegaze and classic country twang, that distorted lap steel and Hartzman's voice slicing through the din.
Rat Saw God is an album about riding a bike down a suburban stretch in Greensboro while listening to My Bloody Valentine for the first time on an iPod Nano, past a creek that runs through the neighborhood riddled with broken glass bottles and condoms, a front yard filled with broken and rusted car parts, a lonely and dilapidated house reclaimed by kudzu. Four Lokos and rodeo clowns and a kid who burns down a corn field. Roadside monuments, church marquees, poppers and vodka in a plastic water bottle, the shit you get away with at Jewish summer camp, strange sentimental family heirlooms at the thrift stores. The way the South hums alive all night in the summers and into fall, the sound of high school football games, the halo effect from the lights polluting the darkness. It's not really bright enough to see in front of you, but in that stretch of inky void – somehow – you see everything.
The songs on Rat Saw God don't recount epics, just the everyday. They're true, they're real life, blurry and chaotic and strange – which is in-line with Hartzman's own ethos: "Everyone’s story is worthy," she says, plainly. "Literally every life story is worth writing down, because people are so fascinating."
But the thing about Rat Saw God - and about any Wednesday song, really - is you don't necessarily even need all the references to get it, the weirdly specific elation of a song that really hits. Yeah, it's all in the details – how fucked up you got or get, how you break a heart, how you fall in love, how you make yourself and others feel seen – but it's mostly the way those tiny moments add up into a song or album or a person.