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Herb Sundays 46: MJ Lenderman
The Asheville singer/guitarist Jake Lenderman lays out a rough and ready set. Art by Cina.
Herb Sundays 46: MJ Lenderman
Apple / Spotify. Art by Michael Cina.
One of the most fun records I’ve heard this year is Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman (which has one of the sickest sleeves too) which has racked up a lot of critical acclaim. I’m new to the oeuvre of Jake Lenderman so will let Uncut magazine neatly summate:
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“Asheville, North Carolina, native MJ Lenderman inhabits a crucial nexus of the Southern underground. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is a graduate of the local house-show scene, and of an important bygone venue called the Mothlight. He’s been releasing his own music since 2017, and is also a guitarist in the country-soaked alternative-rock band Wednesday, led by his partner Karly Hartzman.”
In considering MJ for this series, I peeped his spotify playlists Shoo-Bee-Doo (ok, Like A Virgin-era Madonna, Harmonia, Laraaji…) and Colin’s 2022 (George Strait, Idaho, check) for proof of Herbery and it was clear this guy has his priorities stright. I’ve also been turning to country music more and more lately so was thrilled when he delivered the goods with the simple suggestion to “play it loud” (you got it boss).
The sad earnestness of Lenderman’s lyrics also seep with a twist of POMO power, referencing touchstones as 80’s/90’s NBA pyschodramas, WWE (It’ll always be WWF to me) kayfabe, Roger Rabbit, Six Flags, and more. Not since Julian Casablancas asked “why won't you wear your new trenchcoat?” has object-based lyricism hit so hard. You never get the sense that he's goofin’ on you but he's def goofin’ a bit to get the feeling right (apparently, he projected old basketball games and wrestling matches on the wall of the studio in the making of this album).
I’m not great with “sounds like” stuff but a survey of reviews implies he shares space with John Prine and Jason Molina and writes “lyrics inspired by a method championed by the late David Berman, where seemingly unconnected lines are written, with the majority scrapped, before the remaining ones are stitched together into the finished project.” The musical nerve touched for me is close to where Jim O’Roruke’s poppy MOR albums Eureka (streaming on Apple) and Insignificance (1999 and 2001, Drag City) sit, all amplified to hell and big on hooks.
The countrified rock of Boat Songs is echoed on this playlist (Crazy Horse, Meat Puppets) and the set feels like a periodic table of the elements that make up the Lenderman universe. There’s the hard-living, semi-remorseful George Jones, the Kranky blasts from New Zealand’s Roy Montgomery, and a few pontoon rockers for good measure. The more recent additions were my fave discoveries here: Nyxy Nyx and Court Passion, far on the other edges of the grid. High and low, left and right, this is how Herbs fight.
Special thanks to Eric Martinez for the linkup.
Thanks for reading.