Glued has had St Louis on its toes since they started. The group rides on a sound fronted by drummer Chelsi Webster and guitarist Sean Ballard, rounded out evenly by seasoned bass and guitar players Johnny Wu and Kevin Guszkowski, and designed to break the expectations of their fairly standard rock instrument lineup. I’ve been watching them since their first show, and their adamance to constantly grow and better themselves has made me want to follow that growth and catalogue it in my mind. Show after show and release after release Glued always shoots higher than the previous and often hits the mark.
The Glued sound works due to a number of factors. Their inclination towards classical counterpoint and three voice harmonies in their compositional technique spearheads the music and the style. We can often discern a lead line, a rhythm line and a bass line, but the way they interact with each other to form ever-changing intervallic relationships and harmonization offers a new flavor and helps the project feel well glued together (check). These roles tend to not be static, as the voices like to step outside their boundaries to cross with each other and create a special sort of tension. The drums, on the other hand, lay down a no BS foundation that keeps these sonic panoramas pulsating and breathing– everything Chelsi plays is necessary and to the point. Shared vocals sent through a haunting chorus effect weave in and out seamlessly, sharing space with the expansive triple guitar leads to complete the sound of this unique chin-scratcher of a band.
“Cool Evil” (Born Yesterday Records, 2019) is the result of a long recording session at Rose Raft, the same studio where they recorded their last EP “Insides”. For this project, though, they decided to track each instrument individually instead of undergoing the live tracking that gave the EP its sound. Some kinetic energy heard in “Insides” was lost with the switch, but generally speaking this is Glued’s best sounding release to date. It seems like transparency was the priority, and indeed every part is easily discernible and clear in the blend. The vocals and bass hold a new sense of protagonism on “Cool Evil”– not only are they easier to hear, but their tones have a much more concrete personality and presence.
The eight tracks presented are varied in length and style while maintaining the Glued sound at the core. The gargantuan guitar lead section in “Beach Boys” takes a page from old adventure video games in its three voice counterpuntal interaction, providing a sense of grandeur hardly ever heard in rock music. Beautiful passages like this one contrast with the sludge and dissonance put forth on tracks like the hyper tense and monotone vignette “Taming”. “King Of Bees”, my personal favorite, switches between understatedly touching vocal melodies and confident guitar leads to create cooled off, reflective, and polarizing scenes. The title track “Cool Evil” switches personalities similarly, inserting tense and open riffs between the calm vocal passages, and ultimately closing with a hard pressing, atonal lead that screams the song out. The closer “No Past” travels through evolving sections before returning to the same style of palm muted guitar leads that open the album on “Used To It”, helping conclude the release in a loose full circle.
Sure to be a highlight for many, the fourth track “Fish Song” presents itself as the emotional centerpiece of the album. It opens off with soft, disorienting meanders that mosey and pulsate patiently to lay down a red carpet for a simple, yet devastating anecdote brought to life by Chelsi’s spectacular vocal performance. The bare guitar and voice texture is eventually followed by a releasing and abrasive dynamic jump in the guitars and drums to really send those chills home with the final vocal melodies. It’s a beautiful climax that helps the tracklist breath while showing us Glued at arguably their most sincere and straightforward– a rewarding release for fans of their complex sound looking for a new side of it.
Compositionally, Glued is at their peak. Every song creates interest in unique ways, maintaining strong momentum throughout the album’s 26 minute run time. However, a number of important sections in the album feel slightly compromised due to specific sonic issues. The switch to individual tracking from live recording did eat up some of the energy and richness heard in their previous project “Insides”, and nowhere is this more evident than in the guitars’ level and tone.
Glued’s arrangements almost seem to require equal footing for all voices in order to work properly, yet I hear a clear distance between the two guitars with the one on the left channel being thinner and less present than its right channel counterpart. Certain leads such as the one before and during the “Used To It” verse, the top melody line on the second half of “Beach Boys”, and the outro of the title track “Cool Evil” feel like they should be bigger and have more body when they come in– some of the expected punch is then lost in the mix. The compositions are so strong that this ends up being a minor issue, but something felt off after my first listen and revisiting the “Insides” EP made me truly feel that difference in guitar tone; at points this disparity can make it harder to submerge into the songs and get lost within like I usually do when seeing them live.
Despite this, “Cool Evil” is a leap forward for Glued in clarity, size, arrangement, personality, and depth. The emotional pace of the album makes for a humbling journey, and its short run time feels longer and grander by the time the album is over. It is astounding how the band maintains such a consistent identity throughout this heavily varied collection of songs– when put all together they show a clear, yet shifting portrait of what Glued stands for and what they came here to do. I find myself thinking this same thing every time they put out new music, but I was at their release show a couple of days ago and the new song they closed their set with already feels like its shooting higher than their whole catalogue.
That’s what’s special about Glued: they are on a mission to always make their latest their best. It is this constant search for growth and evolution that keeps me eager to see where their sound goes next, and confident that no matter where it goes it will be worth paying attention to.
Listen to “Cool Evil” via Bandcamp down below:
What a great and fair review. Glued continues to knock it out of the park!
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