The latest by MJ Lenderman sometimes sounds hard-luck; other times, hard-bitten. Both fates come in spades on Boat Songs.
“TLC Cage Match” opens with an acoustic guitar soon accompanied by a sympathetic slide guitar, and then comes a lucid Lenderman with his reedy and resigned vocal: “It’s hard to see you fall like that, though I know how much of it’s an act.” “SUV” imposes overdriven guitars and feedback on the bitterly steady beat, and the bad memories are seared in with the lyrics, “I still have the key to your boyfriend’s SUV / I keep it by my bed like a picture of you and me.”
Songs weave back and forth between the sounds of Modest Mouse and Drive-By Truckers.
MJ Lenderman lives in Asheville, North Carolina. His solo work—and his work with the band Wednesday—pulls between 1990s noisy shoegaze guitars and country rock. Boat Songs, released April 29, 2022, is less of a lo-fi production than the Wednesday releases, but the lyrics remain eagerly vulnerable, like on “Under Control” when Lenderman carefully changes chords on an electric guitar and sings, “I had it under control, and then it snow-balled and rolled and rolled and rolled / And I don’t have control anymore.” The reckoning ends with the verse, “I got my wheels in a ditch / There’s a word for this, for what used to scratch the itch / And then some day it quit / Ain’t that a bitch.”
His sense of humor streaks through the album, especially on “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat”—listen and hear the countrified funk of the earnest and absurd. And the album opens with “Hangover Game” and its lyrics that scoff at the myth of Michael Jordan suffering from flu or food poisoning during his epic “Flu Game” against the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals: “Oh, he looked so sick / It was all over the news / But it wasn’t the pizza, and it wasn’t the flu / Yeah, I love drinking too / I love drinking too.”