By Eryn Brothers, Contributing Writer
You ever been to a country bar that feels like a circus? I ain’t talking about clowns, I’m talking vibe checks. You cruise in and you’re in this tilt-a-whirl of pedal steel, whack-a-mole grunge guitar, funnel cake lyrics, teddy bear bar crawlers and, to take from ol’ Willis Alan Ramsey, Cotton-Candy-Haired larger-than-life women. You could probably get away with throwing peanuts on the floor and ashing your cigarette in an old beer can as the neon and bulb flicker slightly out of tune with the bar itself.
Cool. Got this place in your mind? Well, if you do, you’re practically listening to “The Chaser” by Secret Emchy Society.
Maybe it’s not the cleverest play to use a bar metaphor for an album called “The Chaser,” but I’m not trying to be clever, I’m just trying to give you the facts. The Secret Emchy Society has found a way of making an album that sounds simultaneously like the bar where you’d two-step, and also cry in the bathroom.
“The Chaser” has a quality of raggedness that only a band steeped in a lifetime of dive bars can bring. A casual ear might hear it as unrefined, but being this rode hard without sounding put away wet is a serious feat to execute live – let alone on a record. “The Chaser’s” most distinct quality and most powerful virtue is just that: you truly feel as though you are sitting in the same room, purple and raw, watching front woman Cindy Emch playfully drawl her vocals.
Emch really likes messing with the tried and true country tactic of making something that’s truly tragic into a banger. She knows how to make slappers that make you think. “Why can’t it be simple / Why can’t it be clean?” gleams after the exquisitely slurring gritty tone of the guitar in “Hell is A Hard Place” – and it’s tasty as hell.
“Whiskey Fightin’ Terri” smacks of storytelling a la The Replacements. It’s a pretty punk number, aggressive lyrics talking about the demise of hearts, friendships, minds, under an alcoholic haze. “Grackle” explores love gone wrong under a finite queer gaze: “I took his heart / Held it in my hand / Tried to give it back / ‘Cause I couldn’t love no man.”
“Leavin’ Powell River” is a honky-tonk of a dude with a rockabilly swing correlating a pretty rough sounding tour with a heartbreak that is extremely danceable, while “Dance Like The World is Ending” acknowledges that things are going to go to shit, so a good time is going to be had. It’s an end-of-the-night kind of song, the kind that has you drunkenly looking back into the dive, trying to remember the weird shit you said while smiling because the band was good. You waltz away into the night, knowing that morning is close by.
But under its guise of debauchery that utilizes everything from a Texas waltz to Creole spice and Tin Pan nods, “The Chaser” is ultimately about the stories that we create for ourselves, the narratives that we stumble into, the things we wish we could have, and the things that we keep chasing even though we shouldn’t. They say the best existentialists are comedians. The best country musicians are storytellers. Emch willingly explores the natural brutal comedy of all four of these aspects on the best stage you could put such tales: on the road, in the bar, and being queer in those spaces to boot.