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Famed novelist and poet Richard Brautigan was best known for his blurry, fragmented writing style. The scenes he describes are ephemeral—almost painfully so—but they’re so specific and meaningful that they resonate long after your eyes leave the page. The late writer’s work distills the human experience by emphasizing life’s fever dream qualities, perhaps better encapsulating distinct shades of emotion than if he were to write in more concrete terms.
Karly Hartzman, vocalist and lyricist of Asheville five-piece Wednesday, writes in a similar manner. Like Brautigan, she captures the pain and surreal nature of reality, and she writes with a rapidly shifting focus and no sense of chronology, imprinting a sense of longing on their songs. The two writers also share an affinity for strange personifications and abstract descriptions, which carry a rawness and offer a look inside their inner machinations.
Unsurprisingly, Hartzman cites Brautigan as an influence on the band’s forthcoming album, Twin Plagues, out on Aug. 13 via Orindal Records. Brautigan’s work predates shoegaze, but Wednesday’s distorted, wailing guitars pair perfectly with this style of writing, which is just as blustery and powerful as their triple guitar barrage. Wednesday aren’t a straightforward shoegaze band by any means—they also fold in elements of slacker rock and country—but they harness a considerable amount of force from their rugged guitar roars and quiet-loud dynamic.
A lot of shoegaze sounds like it exists outside of time and space, but because Wednesday’s music contains Southern twang and suburban imagery, their songs feel like a dream world placed right in the backyard, a place where the shed starts to levitate, birds move like marionettes and the adjacent home feels just as deeply as humans do. Lyrically, Twin Plagues is a gloomy album—ominous, even—but it feels like a destination that must be visited in order to move past pain. Sonically, their hooks give the album an exhilarated joy, which heightens all the other emotions present.
Simply put, Twin Plagues is one of the best and most consistent records you’ll hear this year. It’s a stunning body of work for many reasons—the way it grapples with trauma, the way it captures suburban melancholia, the way each hook somehow sounds better than the next, the way they manage to spark something inside the listener with such specific lyrics—but more broadly, it’s because every song feels like a cathartic explosion.
“I have a pretty good memory, especially for bad times,” Hartzman says over the phone as she strolls through the hilly streets of Asheville. “I’m honestly trying to forget and move on, rather than hold onto these memories. I’m writing about them to let them go. I’m ready to move on from a lot of stuff. That song about the broken foot and my friend doing acid and jumping out of a window [“Birthday Song”], like I’m desperate to forget that memory.”
The band’s new LP is their third to date and second as a full band, and it largely centers on the traumas Hartzman incurred during her junior and senior years of high school. “That’s a hard time for everyone, but there’s a lot of bad stuff that happened that I’m still processing,” Hartzman says. “It’s just really hard to escape pain, even in a moment of happiness. I think that’s just how trauma works. Any moment of happiness, you’re going to be like, ‘I wish this person was here to experience it with me.’ Or ‘I wish I could let myself feel this fully, but my mind is thinking about this other thing.’”
Throughout the album, Hartzman alludes to a car crash that had a big impact on her life, and she also lays out more general fears and anxieties she can’t quite evade. It’s an album rooted in pain, but the way it describes the messiness of memories and the tension that lingers in the air when things aren’t okay feels like an emotional breakthrough and the turning of a page. It also has an affection for her Southern upbringing and all the imagery that elicits, which adds a softness to the record. Throughout our conversation, she professes her love for the slow pace of the South, and she jokes about the normalcy of the Greensboro neighborhood she grew up in. “My neighborhood was called Northern Shores, and there was a Southern Shores and an Eastern Shores and every direction Shores,” Hartzman says. “It was very typical. When I watch Gilmore Girls or any show about that kind of lifestyle, I relate to it.”
On “Handsome Man,” she compares her surroundings to a snow globe, and on “Gary’s,” she describes a long walk to get the mail, but chief among the references to her hometown is the title of track three, “The Burned Down Dairy Queen.” To most, that image would seem rather dark—a disconcerting reminder that things don’t last forever, or a relic of capitalism—but Hartzman sees it differently. “I don’t think that’s a sad image,” she says. “It more just encapsulates where I am, and because of that, it makes me happy. Even though it represents, to me, being an empty shell of a person, I look at it and say, ‘There’s me.’ I’m so glad I can see myself reflected in this place where I live and these things I’m surrounded by.”
Hartzman has always been in touch with her creative side. She skipped classes during high school roughly three days out of the week to write and draw at a coffee shop, and she frequently tagged along with a friend to DIY shows in Greensboro. As she gradually saw more female musicians in her local scene, she began to fantasize about joining a band. She read as many memoirs by female musicians as she could find, and she was inspired to keep plugging away at the guitar after watching Mitski’s 2015 Tiny Desk Concert. Hartzman moved to Asheville for college, which is where she met guitarist and eventual bandmate Daniel Gorham. Gorham, who has since left the band to play with Prince Daddy & The Hyena, helped Hartzman record her first album as Wednesday, yep definitely, a lo-fi pop record heavily inspired by The Sundays.
Around that time, Hartzman formed a band called Diva Sweetly with her high school friends, who had previously performed as Pictures of Vernon. They released one album titled In The Living Room back in 2019, but it was a far cry from the type of music Hartzman was hoping to make. Hartzman was psyched to finally be in a band, but as a shoegaze fan, she knew she hadn’t yet fulfilled her artistic vision. Wednesday eventually expanded and became a full group, resulting in the release of their second album I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone in 2020. Hartzman is proud of the record, and it felt closer to the sound she was trying to capture, but still considering herself a musical beginner, she knew she could make something even better.
By the time the band started composing and recording Twin Plagues, Hartzman felt much more confident in her abilities as a musician and songwriter, and you can tell by the immediacy of the songs. You can also hear the band’s growing musical chemistry, particularly in the way their three guitarists interact with each other. Hartzman plays guitar alongside her partner Jake Lenderman and Xandy Chelmis, who plays lap steel, and this combo creates a fascinating back-and-forth. “I’m always so impressed by them and their ability to work around each other and create space for each other,” Hartzman says. “They always know when to hit with the same part, musically, and when to do different things.”
Lap steel and pedal steel guitars aren’t something you normally hear from a shoegaze band, but these sounds are undoubtedly the band’s X-factor, capturing the modulation of emotions with more precision than most instruments. “All of Xandy’s parts are haunting as hell,” Hartzman says. “Xandy has the most emotionally manipulative instrument in the world, like the last few on pedal steel, they’ll fucking jerk you around!”
Hartzman doesn’t think about Wednesday’s music in stylistic terms. Instead, she tries to align their sound with the emotions of every line she’s written, which accounts for the dramatic peaks and troughs within their songs. “I feel like ‘Cody’s Only’ is a really good example of that,” Hartzman says. “I wanted the song to shrink away and then explode at the end because that’s how I felt singing the words. So it’s really just trying to match up everything emotionally, and it happens pretty naturally once we gather what I’m feeling about stuff, line to line.”
Specific imagery like a Dallas Cowboys urn (“Cliff”), condensation on the bathroom mirror (“Cody’s Only”) and a gutter that drips like a runny nose (“Toothache”) draws you closer to Wednesday’s songs, creating an intimate bond that wouldn’t occur if these songs were painted with broad strokes. In a way, Hartzman is trusting listeners with these images, inviting them into the depths of her memory and sharing the good, the bad and the ugly. “I always feel like there are so many songs about general stuff that anyone and no one can identify with,” Hartzman says. “But your memories, specifically, and the more details you use to describe them, that’s the most special goldmine of lyrics in the world, because no one else is gonna [write] the same way you do.”
“I’m haunted by all the space that I will live without you,” Brautigan wrote in a poem titled “Boo, Forever” from 1968. Several decades later, Hartzman sings, “Jealous of the rooms whose floors can feel your weight upon them,” on a song from Twin Plagues. Both lines exude love, pain and loneliness, and the evocative, roundabout way they describe these feelings brings new meaning to these sentiments. Wednesday’s music feels sacred, like something you’re going to keep in a safe place and devour routinely in times of need. We have no idea what Brautigan would’ve thought about Wednesday’s music, but anyone who doesn’t feel the band’s hooks ripple throughout their entire body needs to have their vitals checked.
Twin Plagues is out on Aug. 13 via Orindal Records. Buy the album here.
Lizzie Manno is a music writer, Coldplay apologist, bread lover and Spongebob memer. She’s a former Paste editor, with bylines at Billboard, Cleveland Scene and GRAMMY.com. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno