In my last blog post about local music I would be listening to this summer, I briefly mentioned that I was listening to MJ Lenderman’s new album “Boat Songs.” In the two weeks that have passed, I have been listening to the album more and more. It’s the perfect melancholic summer time album that I desperately needed, and I couldn’t stop myself from constantly listening to it. I am a huge fan of his self-titled album from 2019 and his work in and with Wednesday as their lead guitar player.
Through Wednesday’s rise in popularity, MJ Lenderman has been able to get recognition for his writing and his solo projects. The album is atmospheric, cathartic and an interesting blend of 90s indie rock, 60s and 70s Americana, and modern shoegaze. Through consistent lyrical themes of loss, anxiety and destruction, Lenderman continues to refine and polish his writing. The album feels like an emotional release for Lenderman as he sings about memories from his childhood and the joy and sadness he feels in his present life.
Lenderman plays with contrast a lot on the record; it starts off with the punchy tune “Hangover Game” followed by the groovy song “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat.” The next two songs that immediately follow the fun introduction, “TLC Cagematch” and “Toontown,” are the saddest on the record.
“TLC Cagematch” is a cleaner re-recorded version of the song from his more lo-fi 2021 EP “Knockin’.” Lenderman sings about pro wrestling and his discomfort watching the participants get thrown around over gorgeous steel guitar melodies and sweet back-up vocals from Karly Hartzman, the lead singer of Wednesday.
The next song, “Toontown,” is a more slowcore-influenced track that allows Lenderman to expand on the album’s theme about trying and failing to achieve happiness, while thrilling bursts of noise in the latter half bring the already intense song to another level. The last verse ends by Lenderman singing, “Just some watered-down romeo clown / With his pants pulled down” followed by an emotional build up of swirling guitars and cymbal crashes.
What I love about this record—and Lenderman’s writing on it—is its ability to capture the mundanity of life and the emotions that we might consider to be small, but actually end up consuming us. His writing is painfully honest and relatable, and he has a way of making casual events and images feel like devastation. Sounding defeated on “Under Control,” he sings “I had it under control, and then it snow balled, and rolled and rolled and rolled, and I don’t have control anymore.” These are very simple lyrics and something that many of us have felt before, but Lenderman does not hide from the fact that something this small can make you feel like your world is crashing down on you.
The atmosphere of the record is really interesting, and—at times—it feels comforting, like Lenderman is talking to you like an old friend he’s updating on his life. Other times, the record sounds so lonely and distant. Lenderman celebrates his insecurities throughout the record. On the last song “Six Flags,” he eerily sings, “I’m not counting, no one’s counting, your mistakes” as the album draws to a close.