“It’s funny though because I just did like my third ‘Introducing’ spot for a magazine. I’m still ‘Introducing.’” – Gary McClure, frontman and mastermind of American Wrestlers to Noisey.
When American Wrestlers’ first singles were quietly released in late 2014 and early 2015, a trickle in the crowded indie-rock pond was witnessed. The person behind the project remained anonymous, as he preferred to let his music do the talking. But as the release of his “debut album” approached, Gary McClure finally revealed himself.
American Wrestlers made the former Working For A Nuclear Free City member a household name – at least within indie circles. The album was highly acclaimed and recognized by several sites and blogs among the best of 2015, including our own. McClure’s journey and the album were one of the best stories and biggest unexpected successes of the year. Even for McClure, as he told me when he played a house concert at my wife’s and my home in June, American Wrestlers started off as a whim, where he recorded music on a cassette in his living room and quietly put them on the net. Next thing he knew, a few blogs were covering him and Fat Possum Records came calling.
In the 19 months since that first album, much has changed. American Wrestlers is no longer a one-man project but a full-blown quartet. Supported by his wife Bridgette Mahasavatta on keys, synth, and second guitar, Josh Van Hoorebeke on drums, and Ian Reitz on bass, the “lo-fi”, living room-approach of the debut has been replaced with a more expansive, ‘90s indie-rock sound on the sophomore album, Goodbye Terrible Youth. Although many things have changed, one critical element has stayed the same – McClure’s poignant, thoughtful, and timely storytelling.
The opening track, “Vote Thatcher”, introduces us immediately the new and old American Wrestlers. Akin to Wolf Parade’s best songs, the song is a rocker yet euphoric, as McClure’s edgy guitar and Van Hoorebeke and Reitz’s pounding rhythms are offset by Mahasavatta’s shimmering synths. The story being told is a fascinating one, as McClure juxtaposes events that occurred in the mid-80s with present-day America – that conflict and disorder between the people, the state, and law enforcement.
“Give Up” is an adrenaline rush, starting off with a wave of jangly guitars before exploding into a mind-altering collision of sound. The song is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, both for its anthemic sound and McClure’s introspective songwriting about overcoming self-doubt . The album’s title track, similarly, takes us back to the past, sonically (there’s a touch of Smashing Pumpkins) and lyrically, to a time when we were seeking assurances and answers.
It is on “Amazing Grace”, however, where American Wrestlers hit their peak. Sonically, it is the perfect marriage of indie rock and pop. Lyrically, it is one of the most profound songs of the year, as McClure makes a political statement about the world we live in today. Instead of taking action to improve the lives of others, many choose to address tragedies or hope to turn things around through “thoughts and prayers”.
Not everything on the album concerns difficult subjects. The notion that ignorance is bliss echoes in the soaring “Blind Kids”. The warm and shimmering number, “So Long”, which is highlighted by Bridgette’s great synth work, has the feel of one bidding adieu to yesterday and the welcoming of a new day. The blissful “Someone Far Away” with its The Cure-esque melody is dreamy and enchanting, elevating us high into the clouds and dreaming about someone or recalling a memory from the past.
The album ends on a high with the somber “Real People”. The combination of acoustic and electric guitar is terrific while McClure’s vocals take on an angelic feel. The song is not so much about other people, but rather a recognition that one is part of many. That despite our differences, we are all one.
Eventually, though, American Wrestlers will not be like the rest of us. Their self-titled debut put them on the map, but Goodbye Terrible Youth will make them the band everyone will be talking about. It is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year, an accomplishment that expands from the music to the songwriting. It will also spend the end of the days when magazines, sites, ad blogs will “introduce” Gary McClure, Bridgette Mahasavatta, Josh Van Hoorebeke, and Ian Reitz.
Goodbye Terrible Youth is out now via Fat Possum Records.
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