Wednesday – “Handsome Man”
Wednesday — now there’s a good indie rock band. After releasing a great collaborative EP with MJ Lenderman this spring, Asheville combo is back today with news of their proper third album, the follow-up to last year’s I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone. This one’s called Twin Plagues, and we’re hearing its lead single.
The song is called “Handsome Man.” It finds Karly Hartzman and company leaning all the way into their ’90s alt-rock impulses with spectacular results. The guitars are sludgy and melodic. The vocals are strained yet empowered. It’s both extremely noisy and extremely catchy. Good song. Good band. Good shit. If you have any positive emotions tied up in the concept of ’90s indie rock — as writer and occasional Stereogum contributor Hanif Abdurraqib apparently does, according to his essay accompanying Twin Plagues — it will probably be your shit, too.
A quote from Hartzman:
This song is kind of about using absurdity as an outlet. I think the magical realism/absurd nature of Richard Braughtigan/George Saunders/Isabell Allende novels is what attracts me to them. I find comfort now in things that make no sense. Believing things happen in a random fashion is the only comfort in a world where bad things are always happening on purpose.
Watch the “Handsome Man” video below.
Here’s Abdurraqib’s essay:
In a long and emotionally exhausting year of being inside (alone, in my case,) I have found myself thinking about mirrors. How to avoid spending too much time in them, most days. Taking inventory of the real, physical self is difficult work, work that I’m not entirely opposed to but work that became immediately more treacherous for me when I had to witness the very real toll that time, modern anxieties, isolation, and boredom were taking on me. It was easier, it seemed, to spiral into a not-so-distant glorious past, to use memory as a tool of both excitement and healing.
But, speaking of excitement, I like to stumble towards a band with no agenda, no purpose, uncovering sound almost on accident. This is how I first heard Wednesday. The band came to me and I don’t remember how, or why. They simply arrived, as if we’d been traveling toward each other our whole lives. I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone soaked into my summer of 2020, and in sound, in spirit, in central concerns and the execution of them, it took me back to an era before the current era, which I’d needed at the time. The past can feel less hellish than the present if we are, sometimes, not fully honest with ourselves.
There is the trick of nostalgia that I spend a lot of time playing with in my own writing, and somewhat tormented by in my own living. The very real idea that nostalgia is both a useful tool and also a weapon if it isn’t paired with something that approaches a type of rigorous honesty. Which is hard to do, sometimes. My memories flare and fire with only the finest aesthetics of a past that I was certainly in, but I often deem myself as only a secondary character, if even that. Which, of course, lets me off the hook in the name of fluorescence and flourish, in the name of sound and sight.
I love Twin Plagues first for its songs, plainly. If you, listening to Wednesday for the first time around or even the second time around, stumble onto this album, I promise you the songs will be what grab you first, beyond any of my foolish high-level emotional theorizing or projections. Every band that loves the pursuit of their craft the way this band does is one to follow, because getting to sit on the sidelines and watch them level up is a real generosity. Twin Plagues is overflowing with hooks, but what most delighted me about the band from the start has taken a leap: they have managed, somehow, to get even better at structuring their noise from one movement of a song to the next. The idea of the “song” itself is flexible in their hands, so much so that each song holds two, or three songs within. This, again, generosity. “Codys Only” is a ballad until it begins to threaten a storm of volume, and then, in its final act, it becomes something else altogether. “One More Last One” is a shoegaze-y trip that swells and swells until it overflows, but it doesn’t stop. It keeps offering and offering and offering. I say “noise,” and never in a dismissive sense. Everything has a place, and so much of its place is to serve the true heart of this album, and the true heart of Wednesday’s music, which is allowing cracks through which tenderness can enter and exit as needed. Tenderness that, it seems to me, is always wrestling underneath whatever else might be happening on a song’s surface.
But if I may go back to all of these ideas of nostalgia and our old, tricky, past selves that are, indeed, a part of the house of bricks that make up our present self, what I also hope you, listener, might adore about this album is the exact moment at the start of “The Burned Down Dairy Queen” when Karly sings I was hiding in a room in my mind / and I made me take a look at myself. Because if you, like me, have been avoiding mirrors – both metaphorical and real – this is where the album becomes a lighthouse, echoing bright across the darkness of my otherwise dark and empty chambers. So much of these songs meditate on the past in far less romantic ways than I have found myself meditating on the past, and I was desperate for the recalibration that this album provided. I was desperate for making myself less blurry in my own memories and reckoning with my full, multitudinous self. The self that was once unkind, or less gentle, or less curious than I am now. I needed this album to remind me to embrace the fullness of my unfinished nature, the years I have lived and – with any luck – the years I have to go.
So, yes, the songs are good. You will maybe roll down your windows on a comfortable day on the right stretch of road in a warm season and turn the volume up when “Birthday Song” gets good and loud and sing-along-able. You might sit atop a rooftop at night, closer to the moon than you were on the ground, and let “Ghost Of A Dog” churn and rattle you to some nighttime realization that you couldn’t have had in silence.
But, even on top of all of this, on top of all the pleasures and the mercies that the sounds on this album might afford. I hope and think, too, that it will remind anyone who listens that we are a collection of many reflections. All of them deserving patience.
01 “Twin Plagues”
02 “Handsome Man”
03 “The Burned Down Dairy Queen”
05 “How Can You Live If You Don’t Love How Can Y…”
06 “Cody’s Only”
08 “Birthday Song”
09 “One More Last One”
10 “Three Sisters”
12 “Ghost Of A Dog”
Twin Plagues is out 8/13 on Orindal. Pre-order it here.