Friday, September 03, 2021

The Cat is out of the bag

During the course of a track-by-track run-down of his band's new LP Wax Cat (out today on All Will Be Well Records), Martin Child of The August List explained to Joyzine how the album's second song 'Puget Sound' is inspired by the remarkable story of Richard Russell. In August 2018, Russell stole a 70+ seater plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport despite having no more piloting experience than what he'd gleaned from flight simulators. It's a Icarus-esque tale of flying too close to the sun: Russell managed to take off and pilot the aircraft through a series of incredible manoeuvres for more than an hour, but had no plan for landing, and died instantly when it crashed on Ketron Island.

While Wax Cat itself is a similarly bold and ambitious endeavour and pulls off some equally astonishing moves, at no point does it ever come close to crashing and burning; on the contrary, over the course of its nine tracks, it simply soars majestically, cruising at an altitude significantly higher than both their earlier releases and pretty much everything else I've heard all year.

Take 'Puget Sound' itself, for starters, which blows their previously understated alt-country/Americana up to such a size that it could be seen from space. It's the sort of track that earned Lanterns On The Lake a Mercury nomination and Mazzy Star a place in countless hearts. Like 'I Might Get Low' and the gentle build of instrumental 'Crooked Starlite', its more fully fleshed-out sound is testament to the value of the core duo's judicious use of additional instrumentation. (Ben Heaney's violin in particular has become an integral element.)

Elsewhere, The August List venture further from home - perhaps most surprisingly into cowpunk terrority, with 'Wheelhouse'. But the best of the departures are 'Distorted Mountain' and especially 'God Is In A Wire', both of which are (as usual) illuminated by Kerraleigh Child's vocals but share the same newfound, revelatory joy in the expansive power of volume as Low's The Great Destroyer.

And that's not all Wax Cat has in common with the Minnesotan legends. In conversation with Pitchfork's Sam Sodomsky ahead of the release of their new LP HEY WHAT, Low's Alan Sparhawk talked about indulging their deconstructive urges - the temptation to purposely and creatively sabotage their own songs through "abstractions and distortions". The August List's naked cover of the Diamond Family Archive's 'Big Black Dog' totally floored me when they opened a live show with it way back in 2015 - but here it's transformed into a brooding, unsettling album closer, Martin's distorted shout-at-the-heavens vocals just about winning the battle to be heard amid the howling elemental menace. It's an extraordinary conclusion to an extraordinary album.

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