Westelaken – I am Steaming Mushrooms

9.18.23 by Matty McPherson

Recently “slowcore” found itself on my mind. It’s a personally loathed term for genre, especially when bands purposely find themselves rigidly seeking to fit the codification. As a “sonic context” used to explain and document certain sonic phenomena, it actually becomes an incredibly valuable tool. Basically, the question imo should never be “is it playing slow to this set of rigors” but “why is it playing slow? who caused this and for what?” Resulting, this summer, I’ve seen myself taking a greater joy in the Blue Nile’s Hats! and Meshell Ndegocello’s Bitter. Neither of these albums would ever get shaken down as slowcore releases, unless you came looking at a larger context willing to accept that artists working in adult contemporary sonic modes also…could write flatlined, heartbroken compositions that resonated with the day to day mundanity. On some level, slowcore is about chewing the scenery and the effective disconnects between yourself and things around you. These artists could do that and probably deserve greater dialogue at the table, or more actual acknowledgement for providing new ways to bring new resonance out of the slow. Perhaps that’s why so Ethel Cain did so well.

Anyways, Westelaken is a four piece in Toronto, Canada. They’re not adult contemporary. They happen to write extremely knotty, twisted country rock compositions; the kind where everything is dependent on the red wheelbarrow filled with water. It has ancillaries in 90s post-rock to certain degrees and Drive By-Truckers to other degrees. Although, certain strains of folk songwriters that aim for this music inadvertently wander into making music that hits the slowcore marks but really finds a joy and energy in chewing the scenery with a steady upbeat midtempo. The pace can be glacial, but it’s the serendipitous joy of the lulls and the come to transcendent moments that make the music so much more situated, personable, and (powerfully) relistenable. About a handful of people have heard their music. If you are reading this, you’re probably one of them or about to be.

This is all a long way to say I am Steaming Mushrooms their 3rd and latest long playing cassette, is utterly terrific. It immediately reminded me of the quirky intimacy nestled within Tenci’s under-sung 2020 effort and the soaring desire to find purpose of Caroline’s 2022 debut. Both records felt lived-in, full of points that invited listeners in to share a common cause or experience, catch up and savor a moment of the world. I am Steaming Mushrooms is doing that too; it feels fit for somewhere between open highways and half-empty barrooms where everyone knows your name.

That sense is immediately enshrined with near-14 minute Ozzy’s Palace. It takes a minute for that open-tuned guitar to crash in with open arms. Backed by barroom piano keys, a lumbering bassline, a def drum beat, and the heaviest of tape fuzz it become apparent immediately that’s it come to pay homage to a one of a kind space the only way it knows how: to sprawl and explode in sudden, charming bursts. The drums’ lack of straight time, more or less hammering on beats that dodge immediate time signatures, and more or less sound like shots knocked back on a mahogany oak bar. Occasionally it crashes into catharsis, but more often than not, it sprawls and beckons you to listen closely to the beat of that drum. It’s one of the year’s most confident opening cuts.

Rob McLay’s drum is essential to understanding how Westelaken keeps such a streak going. Mid-tempo & ruminative, it really guides the album as Jordan Seccareccia perks up his wistful drawl filled with detail and desire keen to these beats. He is a terrific everyperson on this release, and while the lyrics aren’t published, they did arrive on folded postcard; there is serendipity and wonder to this exchange and power. His voice under instrumentals, built atop Lucas Temor’s killer piano and Alex Baigent sly, almost dub-trodden bass, convey and match the reserved performance. Across Side A this all comes in to play. The pit-pat piano rumblings of Pear Tree, that builds to a wry, small epiphany. Fixed Up By an Orange Light finds incredibly potency with guitar, key, and string interplay under absolutely gob-smacked potency in crashing frill breaks; a particular noisy syncopation with backing vocals is so raw, so warm. Annex Clinic & Pharmacy reinforces those queitLOUDquiet synctopations, as well as that grit and balance key to the tape.

In fact, at times I damn well had to clean my ears to confirm this wasn’t some misbegotten blog rock stray or Sub Pop one album wonder that was too witty for its time. It’s too twee, too unkempt, too pertinent and realistic; where cuts are disarmingly heartfelt and still summon a five-alarm warning system off in your head. Side B makes that clear, with Ribcage’s banjo strumming majesty & the bass n’ drum thump of hard knock rocker, Polar Bear. Yet, its the knockout penultimate of Fossilhead and closer I Can Hear the Highway. Both cuts are premiere Westelaken snapshots: Fossilhead stretches for ten minutes, bathing itself clean in piano arpeggios, a low bass hum, and a kick drum that strikes down to a molten level, resulting in a quiet blessing; I Can Hear the Highway sees the band’s foreplay and sonic palette in robust effect. They hit a chorus with the impact of a sledgehammer, amongst the delicacy of an oil painting of sunset in the country; with all the pear trees and rolling hills detailed out. Seccareccia ends humming us out like he’s hitchhiking his way to the next adventure.

It’s remarkable how that works. it’s also just a bloody miracle that in 2023 this album exists, and it’s swaggering confidence and homespun jerks mark it amongst the finest of the year, and a real “eureka!” (some rights reserved) for modern indie folk. All the dead oceans americana could learn a thing or two from these Canadians.

Edition of 100 Tapes available at the Westelaken Page; Comes with a Free Postcard of Lyrics.