Western Cum is Cory Hanson’s Surreal, Unforgettable Pastoral of Guitars, Ghosts and Deep Sea Fantasies

The Los Angeles singer/songwriter’s latest solo effort is a merciless, gravitational, witty and absurd benchmark of technicolor rock ‘n’ roll

Music Reviews Cory Hanson
Western Cum is Cory Hanson’s Surreal, Unforgettable Pastoral of Guitars, Ghosts and Deep Sea Fantasies

As I lay on my couch and allow myself to be fully ensconced within the world Cory Hanson has built on his latest record, Western Cum, I am transported to an alternate dimension. It’s not just an ace title; this record turns me inside out. I stick a pair of devil’s horns up to the heavens as Hanson careens into a firewall of riffs and sings about sardine-sized submarines and cocaine taped to a set of balls. That in no way is meant to imply that Hanson is not taking himself seriously on Western Cum. In fact, the truth is wholly the opposite. The album is a meticulous, thoughtful ode to the guitar-forward rock ‘n’ roll that can make Baby Boomer dads quake in their own wetness and convulse into uncontrollable head-banging. From the very first lick, in a moment where the musical zeitgeist has never needed old school rock ‘n’ roll so deeply, Western Cum heeds the call.

When he’s not moonlighting as a mountain-moving shredder, Hanson is the frontman for the psych-rock band Wand. But Western Cum sounds nothing like anything Wand has ever made, and that’s refreshing—if only for the sake of us getting to see Hanson flex his solo muscles in ways that being a part of a full machine might be limiting. Here, he is the machine. In 2021, he released his sophomore LP Pale Horse Rider, which did begin to gnaw at the sound he fully embellishes on Western Cum.

But that album could have never foreshadowed the sonic potential that Hanson was destined to unleash two years later. As opening track “Wings” begins, we are welcomed by a windows-down, empty highway barnburner of a riff. It’s Americana and head-swelling, full of poetry and colloquialisms hardwired to curdle the aches of any contemporary dystopia. Western Cum is not thematically conceptual beyond two throughlines: a playful take on the type of songwriting that turned outlaws into platinum recording artists and a duo of bonkers-glitzy axes that wail in unison.

You can point to any moment on Western Cum and make note of a reference point. There are flashes of the Rolling Stones here, a flicker of Edgar Winter Group there—but the constant for me is how Hanson evokes a Wall of Sound approach with his guitars that Post Animal similarly did five years ago on When I Think of You in a Castle. There’s also a lot—and I mean a lot—of Thin Lizzy reliquaries sprinkled throughout this thing—and I love every single winking instance. Phil Lynott would eat this shit up, I’m sure of it. The electric guitars on “Housefly” could find a good home someplace on the soundtrack of an early-2000s, raunchy buddy flick. Though it holds true to some semblance of an aching 1970s glam architecture, one of the best parts of Western Cum is how often its songs flirt with butt-rock tendencies—and the whole album fearlessly revels in whatever unorthodox or guiltily pleasurable route it needs to take.

With a bluesy, unsaturated voice sanded down into an airy breeze that perfectly compliments the delicious solos and uptempo progressions, Hanson’s bread and butter here is his gonzo, off-the-beaten-path storytelling. A song like “Horsebait Sabotage” doesn’t make a lick of sense, but good heavens is it fun as all get out. “I got a job unloading blocks of ice melting in my van / Watching them slide out in the street like butter skating in the pan,” Hanson sings. It’s one of the more crystallized narrative moments across the eight-song tracklist. A personal favorite lyric of mine comes on “Driving Through Heaven,” when he details a striking pastoral: “Thunder and lightning / Fire so hot it burns a hole in your head / Possums sleeping on the ground / In teardrop shapes / Marble arches fall into an azure lake / The black curtains of a ghost ship coming in.”

But not all that glitters is loud and in your face on Western Cum. On centerpiece “Ghost Ship,” Hanson takes the role of a conductor shouldering a sweet, Zuma-era, Neil Young-style arrangement into a tender oblivion. “The black sails of a ghost ship / Came hurlin’ out the fog / Upside down moon spinning around / The entrails of a dog,” he soulfully croons in a near-falsetto against a patient, drawn-out set of dampened chords. Likewise, “Twins” is equally dazzling in its softer, honky tonk approach. There’s a pedal steel squirming under the sparse psych-rock and prog-pop arrangements. It’s a true talisman of a sonic smorgasbord; every turn changes ever so delicately into something even more rapturous than the riffs and solos and climbing notes that preceded them.

With enough distortion to spin the pitch-blackness of the deepest ocean into roaring technicolor, Western Cum is a monolithic, otherworldly sight. It’s as balls-to-the-wall as a pulp comic; as juxtaposed between grotesque and beautiful as a McCarthy novel has often been. Murderers and hallucinogens and cowboys and pirate ships and biology comprise the DNA of this album, as Hanson considers vignettes of death through fallible, intricate, Lynyrd Skynyrd-conjuring, swashbuckling guitar brutality. Southern rock, London glam, Heartland DIY and West Coast psychedelia are all at play—and, sometimes, they all arrive during the same song. Closing track “Motion Sickness” feels like a proper culmination of everything Hanson can—and wants to—do as an axeman. He tones the instrumentals down into a proper ballad that transcends with backing harmonies and a guitar progression stuck someplace between Joe Satriani and Jeff Beck.

“All of the hills in Santa Barbara / Could never ease a seasick mind / The water laughing on the shoreline / As your green face turned into mine,” Hanson sings on “Motion Sickness.” At a tight 40 minutes, he becomes the grim reaper of lackadaisical indie folk. His weapon of choice is the blade of his six-string, and it’s sharp like a guillotine hovering atop the heads of industry darlings who swim in circles around each other.

There’s a certain kind of gusto that comes with releasing a bone-rattling rock ‘n’ roll record at a moment where most beloved, non-mainstream music is being dominated by plucky acoustics, synth-pop and post-punk. Yet Western Cum is a fun, low-maintenance odyssey that champions the sensuality of a blistering riff or the maximalist bravado of a harmonious solo. Buoyant, entertaining and lively, it’s the greatest trick Cory Hanson has ever pulled off, and we can only hope that—wherever he turns next—he continues to hold his noisy, absurd, Western tapestries up to the light so the rest of us can marvel at their patterns.

Matt Mitchell is Paste‘s assistant music editor. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, but you can find him online @yogurttowne.

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