Wednesday is a band from North Carolina made up of guitarist/vocalist Karly Hartzman, guitarist MJ Lenderman, bassist Margo Shultz, drummer Alan Miller, and lap/pedal steel player Xandy Chelmis. Hartzman writes most of her songs from her bedroom floor in Asheville, NC. Nodding to Nineties skuzz, shoegaze, and country, the music is gauzy and heady, a gnarled wall of sound where Hartzman’s voice and storytelling cut through the din. The band has long revered country lyricism – the dial in their car is often tuned to 105.5 The Outlaw, the DJ with the wild-ass voice – and the distorted lap steel innovations Chelmis unleashes on “Bull Believer’’ and elsewhere is an ode to the genre, to the music and imagery of the American south, the sprawl of the North Carolinian forests, a black bear darting through the yard during a barbecue with friends, a muggy summer and the impossible darkness only lit by lightning bugs when it’s real late at night.
A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing is Tenci’s second album, coming after their 2020 debut My Heart Is An Open Field, which introduced Jess Shoman’s experimentations to the world. With guidance of the push and pull of intuitive guitar and vocal edges, Tenci is a band that plays with time. Shoman admits that their first album dealt with letting go of painful life experiences, resulting in emptiness. In this recent collection of wiser years and distance from that former grief zone, Tenci carries an opposite feeling, a celebration of self-rejuvenation. A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing shows Shoman steering their inventive folk style further and wilder, spilling over with 12 fable-like songs. In a combination of milk, coins, glass, contained water, and light, each song forms a spell to “fill my heart back up,” Shoman says, “by reframing complex feelings by turning my head sideways and seeing them in a different way.”
From the close-knit Chicago scene, Shoman is joined by Curtis Oren on saxophone and guitar (Curt Oren), Izzy Reidy on bass (Izzy True), and Joseph Farago on drums (Joey Nebulous). In the past couple years, they’ve been playing shows together at home in Chicago, on their tours around the country, and recording this album with Abby Black, adding fuller instrumentation and natural harmony of friends. While the themes of Tenci shuffle around a serious pool of thought and trying to understand life’s wrongings, their live set often interludes with goofy light-heartedness. Anyone who knows the band members of Tenci knows they are the funniest people on earth. And their playful coordination and dynamics of loose drums and bass, huffing sax, and vocal waterfalls leaves us warmer than before. The songs on A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing bundle together like weavings of twigs to create that fire, a burning message to keep going and going.