by: Kelly Johnson
There’s a common refrain heard amongst Chicagoans that frequent the local punk/garage/whatever shows in the area: Meat Wave are the best band in Chicago. Okay, so maybe “common refrain” is a bit of a misnomer. I don’t want to speak for the whole city. Despite the hyperbole and loaded statement (how’s that for setting the band up for some pressure/backlash), I’ve certainly heard the phrase thrown around. After the band’s lean and explosive self-titled album and now their newest release Delusion Moon, it’s apparent why the area is quick to embrace this mantra. Meat Wave is the quintessential Midwestern band: Economical, precise and frustrated.
Full disclosure, I do have friendships with the members of Meat Wave. My old band toured with them last year. Perhaps that turns you off (or maybe on?) to my opinion. But I started out as a fan. After discovering and subsequently playing-the-hell-out-of their 2012 self-titled debut I was nervous how the trio could capitalize on such a fully realized piece of work. To my delight, Delusion Moon is a longer, more challenging album. It expands on Meat Wave’s initial palate of incessant, tight rhythms paired with original melodies while simultaneously surprising the listener with imaginative and unsettling song structures.
Take a listen to “Witchcraft” where singer/guitarist Chris Sutter manages to make the lyrics “I never meant/To throw your computer out the window” not sound clunky but instead sinister and antagonizing. Drummer Ryan Wizniak and bassist Joe Gac (who also recorded the album) construct a beast-of-a-rhythm that manages to somehow lumber but also propel its way along an ascending but never landing guitar lick. Just when you sense a rad payoff after close to three minutes of build, Meat Wave throws you off balance some more with a locked-in riff that doesn’t resolve the tension so much as pummel it in further. “Sham King” follows immediately after with an all-hands-on-deck two-note riff that exists solely to wallop. “King,” “Cosmic Zoo,” “Erased,” “NRA” and the title track will please listeners familiar with Meat Wave’s earlier work of unique and catchy melodies alongside their switchblade-sharp punk rhythms.
The anxiousness in the songs is heightened by the disgruntled subject matter all over the album. Luckily Sutter’s unique sneer established on the first album is still intact. The songs aren’t so much angry as they are frustrated. Deciphering the lyrics isn’t always easy, but they are fortunately included with the vinyl. Dissatisfaction with social media, religion, hucksters and the far right mix in with a general existential dread. They’re all highly relatable sentiments amidst our society’s current onslaught of information and oversharing. There are few conclusions here but the future seems bleak. “What was lost stays lost forever,” Sutter laments on “Reunion.”
All the tension and knotty turns created throughout the album can leave you feeling tired by the time it’s finished. At 13 songs and almost 40 minutes it’s a lot to digest upon initial spins. But Meat Wave challenges the listener on Delusion Moon and dares you to keep up with them. The introductory hooks are present, and if you’re patient, the band has crafted an album to reward you with more hooks to swing to once you’ve hung with them long enough. Still economical, still precise, still frustrated.