The Wiggins, Greater Minds
Jon Read may not have been born in the sweaty, swampy, dirty depths of Houston, Texas, but the city fits him like a (tattered, weird-smelling) glove. There’s just something about that raw, ripped-open, messy, muddy sound Read’s crafted over the course of his 15 years or so of his musical career as The Wiggins that brings to mind H-town’s true, unvarnished nature — we’re a goddamn muddy, mosquito-filled swamp, filled up with weirdos and creeps and corruption, and yet, there’s beauty buried in all of that muck and grime.
Greater Minds is the same kind of deal; it’s a dirty morass of sound, on the one hand, but on the other, it’s a sneaky, sneaky bunch of sweet-hearted blues-garage-pop tunes that have their own peculiar charms, buried though they might be.
The title track is a prime example: it’s raw and ragged and bassy, sounding like it’s being played through speakers shredded drunkenly with a knife, and reminiscent of The Kills’ early stuff at points (only with less sneering, self-conscious cool and more of a surly, streetwise snarl). With that, though, it sucks you in and forces you to listen, chugging along with a menacing bassline and smashed-up percussion and making it all work like the pieces of a very fucked-up machine; there’s a devious kind of magic going on that makes it hard to turn away.
Then there’s the slower, more bluesy “Crowd,” which is gritty and dirty, stomping and staggering along with a confidence that’s impossible to deny, but ever-so-subtly exposing a surprising undercurrent of melody deep, deep down in the noise. The same goes for “Annie,” driven along by a tapped bassline that lures you in to dance among the knives and needles.
Despite all my talk of Houston-ness, mind you, the closest comparison I can come up with is Louisianans Quintron and Miss Pussycat. That duo’s swamp-rock comes near to The Wiggins’ murky, scraped-up garage-noise-pop, especially on tracks like “Burn On” or “Eden,” the latter of which awesomely merges lo-fi electronics and an addictively melodic pop underbelly, or the trashcan stomp of “Watch the Trees Burn”.
Naturally, Read throws in some curve balls on Greater Minds, like “In the Light,” which mines a ska-sounding rhythm and great, great keyboards (and which is catchy as hell, to boot), or “No Profit,” which is quiet and somber, about as close to “minimal” or “clean” as The Wiggins ever gets; it’s truly a blues song, stripped of most of the noise and static, and I’d be willing to bet it serves as a pointer to Read’s own musical roots.
The album closes out with another of those curve balls (and maybe another of Read’s influences?), a seemingly sincere, slowed-down, jangly cover of Patty Smyth’s “The Warrior,” which in the hands of The Wiggins sounds so damn natural it took me a minute to realize what the hell I was listening to.
In a musical world that seems to get increasingly shiny and sleek day by day — yes, even right here in H-town — we desperately need more people like The Wiggins, to remind us that not all music has to be pretty to be good, to remind us that noise in itself can be amazing, and to remind us that sometimes just saying “fuck it” is the right way to go.