The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow, and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.
“I don’t know we’re ever going to be a huge rock band or whatever, but it’d almost be cooler to be this unknown band that people are talking about 40 years down the line. That’s more impressive to me than, you know, selling 100,000 tickets.”
That quote is from Jay Clancy, the frontman for the up-and-coming indie rock group Sloucher. Down to earth expectations aside, his band’s full-length debut, Be True, is a stunning record, brimming with discordant guitar solos, shimmering melodies, tender vocals passages, and enough emotional peaks and valleys to dwarf the mighty Cascade Mountains. It’s the kind of album worthy of hyperbolic praise and widespread recognition in our present moment. It also stakes their claim right out of the gate as one of the next great indie rock bands to come out of storied bastion of the genre itself, Seattle.
Sloucher began as an auteurist vehicle for Clancy’s songwriting several years ago. A drummer by trade, he wanted to expand his palette and experiment around with different instruments and see what happened. “It started out as a solo project,” he noted. “I got all of these songs that I had just kind of had been kicking around for a few years, and I thought, ‘I’m going to try and make a record.’ So I spent about a year making our first EP in my friend Brandon’s basement.”
After completing that EP, which was titled Certainty in 2016, Clancy shared it with his friend Kyle Musselwhite who was blown away by what he was doing. Musselwhite was playing in a different band at the time, The Globes, but decided he wanted to work with Clancy instead. “He really dug the songs. He was like, ‘Hey, man, I’d really like the jam sometime.’ I was like, ‘Holy sh*t!’ That was like a dream come true for me. I’d always looked up to this dude, and he wanted to play on my songs. So we started jamming.” Eventually, they added Lance Umble on bass, and Clancy’s childhood friend — “He’s basically like my life partner” — Jack Hamrick on drums, and thus, Sloucher became the band it is today.
The foursome spent the next couple of years writing songs and playing shows, including a main stage set at the Sasquatch Music Festival in 2017, while refining their sound and discovering their collective identity. “At first, I was definitely calling all of the shots,” Clancy said. “As time went on, Kyle has basically become my co-songwriter. It’s sort of different on a song-by-song basis. There are a couple of songs on the record that evolved out of jams that are practice-based, which was new and exciting and something that’s never happened before.”
Eventually, they inked a deal with the Tacoma, Washington label Swoon Records, and after playing more shows — including opening up for the likes of Angel Olsen, Portugal. The Man, and Guided By Voices — they got off the road and got serious about refining their debut record. “We had everything super dialed in before we went to the studio,” Clancy said. “I think we spent like four months just kind of not playing shows and meeting up like once or twice a week and playing through all the songs and recording demos and then going home and listening to the demos and then coming back and reworking the songs.”
All of that leads us to Be True. “This record is a little more aggressive. It’s a little more guitar heavy,” Clancy said. “We had a budget this time, and we had a real studio to work at instead of like spending a year going over to my buddy’s house recording on his crappy little computer, we got to set aside 12 days and just totally dive into the record.”
Guitar heavy is the operative phrase. For those who relish in emotive and excursive guitar solos, there’s a lot to love on Be True. From the funky, reverb-drenched passage on the opening track “Blurring The Line,” the searing, chorus-painted lead on “Perfect For You,” or the apocalyptic meltdown on “Melodrama,” Musselwhite and Clancy take turns painting captivating soundscapes on their respective guitars.
“Kyle and I spent six days on just tracking guitars. By the end of it, we were completely cross-eyed and not sure if all the time we were spending on it was actually going to pay off, but I think that it did,” Clancy said. I’d tend to agree, and a lot of that success he attributes to Musselwhite. “We always say that Kyle is like the X Factor of the band, because I mean, it’s true. He is kind of the dude who takes the songs to the next level for us.”
Of course, a solo is only as good as the larger song that surrounds it, and Sloucher were scrupulous about crafting each and every one of the 10 tracks that made the final cut on the album. “For the most part, I’ll come up with the skeleton of the song, and then Kyle and I will meet up and sort of flesh it out and maybe change some things, and then make another demo of it, and then bring it to the band,” Clancy explained. “Once we bring it to the band and the four of us are in the room, there’s minor changes that are made. So I kind of lay the framework, and then these musicians that I’m working with are talented enough that they can take my ideas and turn into something bigger and better. That’s when it becomes a Sloucher song.”
One of the signature attributes of the album is a meticulous attention to detail about how the music ultimately sounds. Every track has its own vibe, with the band consciously trying to bring different angles to different compositions. “Jack and I are both total Dave Grohl nerds, so we were kind of going for just that big, open, in-your-face rock drum sound,” Clancy said. “Then there were some of the quieter songs that we like taped up the drums and threw towels on everything to get like a drier, tighter, ’70s sound.”
That effort was all part of creating a larger tapestry of music that listeners can come back to and discover different nuances with each listening experience. “I admittedly have listened to this record probably like 300 times and I’m always surprised that it’s only 38 minutes long,” Clancy said. “It almost feels like an hour-long record, because we stuffed so much sonic information into it. I’m happy about that, because we were a little sad that we had to cut some songs, but it still feels like a long musical journey.”
Some tracks like “Perfect For You” have been bouncing around for three years before they were finally whipped into the melancholic masterpiece you’ll hear on the record now. “We had recorded one version of it that we thought might go on the record, but I decided I wanted to redo it,” Clancy said of that song in particular. “We just felt like we missed the mark a little bit. We ended up redoing it and kind of getting crazy with guitar layering and all that stuff.”
Personally, my favorite song on the record is “Complacent.” It’s not exactly flashy, and it won’t jump out at you in the same way some of the more energized tracks on Be True will during those initial runs through the record. But live with it for a while, and the ocean of heartbreak and anguish sitting just under the jaunty melodies will reveal itself. “I’m ready to make amends / I don’t wanna play pretend / I’ll do what you ask of me,” Clancy begs in the opening lines. “Just let me know what you need.” The whole thing channels Figure 8-era Elliott Smith at his the brightest and most nihilistic.
“I was going through a lot of personal change and changes in my relationships during the record,” Clancy said. “It kind of hits on a lot of those themes. Even though some of the songs might be dark or have sad moments, I always try to insert some kind of glimmer of hope into my lyrics, because, at the end of the day, I don’t think everything is dark and doomed. You kind of got to go through this sh*t to end up better on the other side of it.”
For Clancy, songwriting is a healthy way of working through the real trials he was going through in his real life.”I deal with some depression stuff and writing is a great outlet for me to deal with those feelings. So some of the songs deal with darker themes and not feeling too great about yourself.” He added, “The record is called Be True because I know that if I write down honest things, that that’s what people to connect to. I know that that’s how I am with music.”
Be True ultimately ends not with an over-the-top bang, but an eviscerating whimper. On the last track on the record “Wanna,” glistening guitars fuse with Clancy’s tender voice as he softly pleads about wanting to change to avoid wasting another perfect day. Shades of Lou Reed and Lou Barlow abound. There are no drums. Nothing to distract you from the miasma produced by such a sparse arrangement. As the final strums echo out of the speakers and silence reigns, heaviness descends. Then, the album begins again.
Sloucher’s new album Be True is out on November 16 via Swoon Records. Pre-order it here.