Ugly is the new pretty. Rooting through the nastier side of punk, noise, and metal to uncover a perverse sort of widescreen majesty is nothing new, and plenty of bands have done it to divergent ends, from the pop sludge of the Melvins and the brittle, hard-edged elegance of Big Black and Shellac to the raw, open-hearted candor of Converge and the emotional turbulence of Neurosis. But a young wave of underground bands—Made Out of Babies, Clockcleaner—is laying down a new level of ugliness that at the same time reaches new heights of sonic grandeur. New York four-piece Wetnurse steps to the head of that class with its second album, Invisible City.
It’s no surprise that Wetnurse singer Gene Fowler gets most of the attention. His voice is like the bark of a drill sergeant, all commanding presence and released, staccato rage. But guitarists Greg Kramer and Garrett Bussanick are the stars of Invisible City. The pair trade riffs that would bloody your nose with off-kilter leads that never quite add up to hooks, unless you’re talking about the kind that skewer a fish’s mouth. Even the most bruising sections of pummeling power chords and skewed lead guitar have emotional resonance. When the band climbs out of the gutter, as on the towering “Not Your Choice” or the fist-pumping chord progression and solo at the center of “Missing Lion Returns,” it’s about as pretty as ugly music gets.