Roy Thomas Baker once opined that a lousy recording of a hit song was still a hit song, and as lo-fi pioneers like Guided by Voices, Smog, and the Mountain Goats have shown us in the past, if you have the right tunes, a low-tech home-brewed production can do as much to bring out their virtues as a few months at a $500-an-hour studio with a handful of first-call session musicians. The debut album from American Wrestlers confirms that the lo-fi aesthetic is still going strong in the 21st century; Gary McClure, formerly of Working for a Nuclear Free City, built a makeshift home studio centered around a Tascam eight-track cassette deck he found at a pawnshop after relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, and the result is one of the best crummy-sounding pop albums of recent memory. Unlike many nascent lo-fi artists, McClure was already well-versed on the finer points of songwriting and performing before he began putting these tunes on tape, but he was also shrewd enough to play to the strengths of his second-hand gear. The distortion and compression imposed by his cassette-based recording setup gives the vocals a gentle but otherworldly tone, while the acoustic guitars rattle with impressive force and the electrics sound likes something from Joe Meek's dreams. Couple that with the tinny drum loops, elemental bass, and occasional subsonic keyboards, and American Wrestlers has a sound that's made to order for McClure's songs, which sound like smart, mature pop with a shoegazey twist that builds something lovely out of downbeat numbers like "There's No One Crying Over Me Either" and "Wild Yonder" and gives weight to pop confections like "I Can Do No Wrong" and "The Rest of You." Gary McClure knows how to write a strong melody and a great hook, and he's no slouch on guitar; those are gifts that would serve him well under any circumstances, but on American Wrestlers he's shown that he can make a great record with any old junk at his disposal, and quite simply, that's just what he's done here. Hopefully he'll be heading back to the hockshop again soon, looking for more inspiration. [The CD version of American Wrestlers added a bonus track.] ~ Mark Deming
Rolling Stone - 3 stars out of 5 -- "McClure's cool charm makes these homespun songs feel like long-lost guitar-pop gems, newly discovered and barely dusted off."
Spin - "[T]he most appealing thing about AMERICAN WRESTLERS is its lack of obvious guile or pretension."
Pitchfork (Website) - "[T]he songs themselves tend to make strong first impressions. McClure leads songs off with breezy guitar leads, memorable titles become indelible lyrics, choruses make satisfying, expected leaps."
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