“I threw a bunch of crazy crap together in my shed and some folks are calling it the album of the year! Are they completely mental? Probably”. Thus reads an incredulous-sounding Facebook statement by Scot-turned-US-citizen Gary McClure upon reading rave reviews about his project American Wrestlers, merely an attempt to while away some hours before the paperwork could be finalised to allow his stay on the other side of the Atlantic, where love had led him, to become permanent.
McClure had been making music in the UK for years with little success and, not realising he had taken the long haul to the US for the, ahem, long haul, he hadn’t taken much stuff with him when following his wife-to-be to St Louis. So off he trotted to a pawn shop, where he bought a bass guitar. Supplementing that with a free drum app and his wife’s piano and guitar, he set about making a recording that has been labelled lo-fi, but that’s an understatement; at times his home-made production sounds chaotic, barely audible and bloody terrible.
Released last year, I Can Do No Wrong has certainly attracted some attention but it’s a classic example of the lo-fi recording technique used by McClure on his 8-track. Everything sounds awfully distorted, like a heavily-played warped vinyl on its last legs stuttering through a millionth play – but it’s a top track: a memorable guitar hook, fuzzy messed up sounds aplenty and McClure’s humble vocals add up to something that works, yet when you break it down into its constituent parts it’s a miracle it does work at all.
In 2011, a homeless man by the name of Kelly Thomas was beaten to death by three Californian police officers, and he is the subject of a second track already released from the album – Kelly. It’s another brilliant effort, building from minimalist guitar openings amid botched recording to a catchy riff and chorus. Opening track There’s No One Crying Over Me has a whiff of Tom Petty about it and is even better: based around a compelling guitar hook and slow beat alongside ticking percussion before leading to a thick, blistering bolt of guitar soloing, it sounds a bit like The National playing on a radio experiencing severe reception issues, albeit with Tom Berninger’s balls being clamped in a vice.
Holy is another winner where the 1980s are recalled once more. The ticking percussion continues, as does McClure’s heavily distorted vocals but the track’s driving bass recalls post-punk efforts of the early ‘80s and the catchy guitar hook sounds like Chris Rea trying to play On The Beach on a badly busted electric guitar that’s just been pulled out of a rat-infested, stinking hell-hole of a tip. The faster effort The Rest Of You races along to clanging knackered guitar again, something like The War On Drugs played through a washing machine, whilst the fuzzy guitar of Cheapshot ventures into a psychedelic haze.
At times the lo-fi becomes a little too overbearing though, like on Left where midway through its six minutes it sounds like McClure adds in a vocal part recorded in the bath with someone playing guitar from the next room, but the quality of the underlying track with its cheap sounding ticking beat again cannot be disguised despite his efforts to do just that.
He may sound like an actor from a land that time forgot but McClure is clearly a talented individual. His music may also be familiar sounding, but it’s actually very good; he ain’t a producer though, and as compelling as the lo-fi recording makes the album, you can’t help but feel that given better production this could well have been the album of the year that some over-enthusiastic sorts claim. One of the surprises of the year, however? Definitely.