The house that Superchunk built will always have a place in my heart, but even in the face of the cold hard facts that are the improbable millions of records sold by that pronouncedly silly lot, I’ve been less than thrilled with the lion’s share of the recent Merge Records roster. It’s a position that leaves me on less than solid ground argumentatively, as that personal ambivalence is more than undermined by Grammy awards and the absurd amount of units shifted in recent years by the likes of personal aural nightmares like The Arcade Fire and Conor Oberst. From a more objective perspective, those sales have no doubt leant a degree of security to the Merge proprietors and it’s nice to see the good guys win a couple in this day and age. I can also take small consolation in the fact that those Arcade Fire dollars pay for a lot of Superchunk and Archers Of Loaf reissue initiatives, while simultaneously keeping the likes of American Music Club and Teenage Fanclub on the U.S. radar. Luckily enough, it’s also scoring us some Let’s Wrestle records.
While Merge is a staunchly independent American label with no shortage of local pride, the Triangle titans have always sported big international ears, releasing its fair share of Kiwi-pop and UK rock when the fancy struck them. London trio Let’s Wrestle got a fair amount of notice on both sides of the Pond for the Buzzcock (and King Crimson)-indebted guitar stylings of their debut full-length In The Court Of The Wrestling Let’s (2010). Touring with Superchunk last year sealed a label deal with Merge and resulted in the re-release of Court stateside. That second wind delayed recording a follow up longer than many a fan on either side of the water would have preferred, but now, after many months of touring and a short dalliance in Chicago with one Mr. Steve Albini, the follow-up is now available courtesy of your friends at Merge.
The new record is called Nursing Home, and from the moment one drops a laser on the proceedings, it is obvious that Let’s Wrestle is a British band. Post-Oasis, Brit rock is once again a matter of national pride. As such, we get records that strive to capture the post-grunge British experience the way The Jam and The Kinks, circa Muswell Hillbillies (RCA, 1971), had done previously. Blur tried to capture that mood in their Modern Life Is Rubbish (SBK/EMI, 1993) era, as have Pulp and The Streets in recent years with varying degrees of success. The Let’s Wrestle motivation is ambiguous as to being inherent or intentional, but with Nursing Home Let’s Wrestle have captured the mood of young Britain in the second decade of the 21st century.
Cultural antecedents aside, those of a non-anthropological nature can rest assured that all musical parties involved in Nursing Home bring the rock in a pronounced fashion. No doubt much to the chagrin of the Wrestlers, The Wedding Present comparisons that have followed the trio since their inception will continue apace. While Wesley Patrick Gonzalez lacks the adenoidal vocal stylings of David Gedge, the wiry Brassneck-ed guitars underpinning tracks like “Bad Mammaries” draw a line of ascension that is hard to ignore.
There are certainly much worse things, and let’s be clear: Let’s Wrestle are far from a Wedding Present rip-off. The trio gaffer tapes The Jam to the Fall-ier side of Pavement to make quite the sweet-sounding racket. Gonzalez is enviably sure-handed in his dual roles as guitarist and singer, but bassist Mike Hankin (since replaced by Sam Pillay) deserves the Nursing Home MVP award for his ability to relentlessly hold it down note for note on ragers like “Dear John” and the ride-out of “I’m So Lazy” and still show a degree of finesse with the McCartney-esque parts of the Kinks-y “For My Mother.” The contemplative aside is a pastoral track that is perhaps the most British of the tracks here, evoking Gonzalez’s stepfather’s Pete Astor’s work with The Loft. Life for the suburban English youth unlucky enough not to play in a rock band may not be especially rosy, but much like the protag in “I Am Useful,” with Nursing Home, Let’s Wrestle are out to put an English face on things.Visit: Let's Wrestle | Merge
Purchase: Insound | eMusic