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Steve Wynn - Northern Aggression

Steve Wynn will always be most famous for leading The Dream Syndicate, whose 1982 debut, The Days of Wine and Roses, was a landmark album of the jangle-pop genre and Los Angeles' paisley underground scene, inspiring R.E.M. and Bangles, alike. This is a fine legacy for any musician, but, for many, the idea of Steve Wynn is rooted to this one moment in time. That can be a hindrance to an artist who has remained vital – yet underappreciated – for the last twenty years.

Unfortunately, after The Dream Syndicate broke up in '89, Wynn released a few mediocre albums on major labels, failing to gain recognition with a new generation of alt-era music lovers, while losing some old fans along the way. However, his post-millennial work has been consistently stronger. Wynn's raucous 2001 double-album, Here Come the Miracles, recorded with backing band The Miracle 3, is a career highlight. So is 2008's Crossing Dragon Bridge. A bewitching departure recorded in Slovenia, the acoustic-leaning album features melodies inspired by his Eastern Europe locale, while also evoking the French chanson of Jacques Brel and the smart folk of Leonard Cohen.

Steve Wynn's new album, Northern Aggression, is an American rock 'n' roll yang to the reflective European yin of Crossing Dragon Bridge. Utilizing The Miracle 3 once again, it's also a return to the feel of Here Come the Miracles, where organ and distorted guitar lead the charge of over a tight, no-frills, rock rhythm section. Fortunately, Wynn is able to find plenty of room for variety within this well-worn musical framework.

"Resolution" kicks off the record with a melodically minimalist, staccato rhythm of steadily driving single notes on guitar and bass, creating a gritty drone that recalls acts from The Velvet Underground to Black Angels. Over this, Wynn chants, "Everything that rises must resolve," just as the music takes an unexpected turn into major-keyed power chords, only to fall back into the original drone (resolving, as promised). Mid-album cut "The Other Side" brings to mind a later stage of Lou Reed's career. With loosely ringing guitars, reedy organ, and warmly welcome phrasings, Steve Wynn does rock 'n' roll street poetry that would fit on Reed's New York LP. None of this is to say that the lifelong acolyte copies the master; rather, valuable lessons have been learned and assimilated well.

While Steve Wynn is always his own man, his style touches on other artists, too. Northern Aggression closing track "Ribbons and Chains" is from the same mode as his antipodal jangle-pop counterpart: Grant McLennan, the prematurely departed co-leader of The Go-Betweens. Wynn's song possesses the same feel as much of McLennan's work, where agreeably rough-hewn alt-country-ish rock supports a half-spoken, half-sung narrative. In "Ribbons and Chains," Wynn manages the awkward cadence of lines like, "I've got to learn to stop apologizing for everything / And I'm sorry for that, too" with aplomb.

More straightforward is "Cloud Splitter," a swampy rock number burnished by slide guitar licks and featuring Wynn at his most Tom Petty-esque, drawling in a nasal tone, "We believe we can touch the sky." The best song on Northern Aggression, though, is "We Don't Talk About It," a buoyant blues-rocker that finds Steve Wynn so energized that he flows like a veteran rapper as he speak-sings about what we cover up and what we choose to ignore.

To a degree, Wynn is preaching to the converted on his new album. He presents no sounds, styles, chord changes, or production techniques that you haven't heard before – from Wynn or elsewhere. Then again, when middle-aged rockers venture too far outside their comfort zones, the results are often dreadful. He's certainly right at home on Yep Roc, the label that brings us quality releases from the likes of Robyn Hitchcock, Peter Case, and John Doe. So, if you're looking for something hip and new, try the latest blogged-about band from Brooklyn. For yet another really good record from an aging Gen Xer, Steve Wynn's Northern Aggression is what you need.

Recommended Tracks: "We Don't Talk About It," "Ribbons and Chains," "

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