Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 – Northern Aggression

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)


Devils went down to Georgia – Virginia,
actually; and proceeded to deploy their own version of rock ‘n’ roll scorched
earth policy. Those devils would be: Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, a/k/a guitarist
Jason Victor, drummer Linda Pitmon and bassist Dave Decastro. And the scene of
the crime would be Richmond’s
Montrose studios, where Wynn & Co. held father-son engineering team Bruce
and Adrian Olsen at gunpoint until they’d wrung every last ounce of sweat outta
the console. Small wonder the resulting album was titled Northern Aggression, which is rumored to be what some
unreconstructed rebels living below the Mason-Dixon line
still call the Civil War. That General Wynn, he means business.


Okay, dubious battle metaphors aside, the first new studio
album from Wynn and the M3 in five years does find the songwriter at his most
vital, both songwriting- and performance-wise, since the very first M3 release,
2001’s Here Come the Miracles, and
possibly since his Dream Syndicate glory days. Earlier this year when I
interviewed Wynn
(primarily about the remastered reissue of D.S. classic Medicine Show), he was clearly stoked,
saying, “I think you’re going to like the new record… I hate to do hype,
because everyone does that, but it really is the best Miracle 3 [to date], and
hopefully it’ll make it to the finish line as much as I like it now.”


With material this strong, he’s got good reason to feel that
way. The sonics are sumptuous from the get-go, with opening track “Resolution”
shuddering into view like snaky heat lines hovering over summer asphalt, the feedback-laced
thrumming rocker gradually turning widescreen in the grand psychedelic
tradition, equal parts MC5, Spacemen 3 and Echo & the Bunnymen, but
filtered through a thoroughly contemporary cranium-crunching sieve. This
then-meets-now aesthetic is a trick they pull off repeatedly: the
dreamy-yet-propulsive “No One Ever Drowns,” with its fat bottom end, resonant
guitar twang and droning mellotron, is sci-fi ‘60s surf for the 21st century; the pedal steel-powered cosmic cowboy rocker “Cloud Splitter” is like
an opening credits theme for a contemporary western noir flick; in “Colored Lights” Wynn works a kind of Dylan vocal
angle (Dylan’s influence on him as a songwriter has been evident since early
Dream Syndicate days) while the band churns up a zinging, zooming
shoegaze-worthy wall of sound.


Oh, and that noir reference
above wasn’t random; Wynn has always written for the cast of characters in his
head, and here they arrive onstage decked out in full regalia. On the one hand,
there’s the slowly-crumbling, hard-luck cat of bluesy minimalist sketch “The
Death of Donny B” (adapted from the soundtrack of late-sixties anti-drug
docudrama A Day in the Death of Donny B,
about a heroin addict in NYC), who’s depicted scrabbling and scrambling with
such palpable desperation you can nearly smell his urine-stained trousers and
his filthy rotting teeth. Then there’s the swaggering, street-smart narrator of
the edgy, funky “We Don’t Talk About It,” slinging epistles and spouting jive,
keeping one eye on the prize and the other over his shoulder. And in the brutal
“On The Mend” Wynn essentially updates the C.V. of one of his recurring protagonists
(perhaps the conflicted arsonist of the Dream Syndicate’s “Burn”?), who
recounts having perched on the edge of the abyss once upon a time but now
urges, not necessarily all that convincingly, “look into my soul, you can see
I’m on the mend.”


Also in Wynn’s lyrical toolbox are reflective reveries and
confessional interludes, and it’s this attention to thematic balance, along
with an exquisite ear for sequencing the songs, that helps elevate Northern Aggression to classic status.
Throughout, the album finds Wynn and the band firing on all cylinders on all
fronts, which either suggests that the five-year layoff between albums
recharged their studio batteries, or simply made ‘em hungry to get cracking on the songs. Probably both.


That smell in the air? Pure brimstone, my friends.


DOWNLOAD: “Resolution,” “The Death of Donny B,” “We Don’t Talk About It” FRED MILLS



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