Nashville rock trio Ettes has some rage issues—and the band is not afraid to take them out on you. Led by the slight Southern drawl of Lindsay “Coco” Hames, Ettes’ fourth LP since forming in 2004 is upfront and edgy, each lyric prickling with unbridled honesty.
Opener “Teeth” starts with Hames’ voice sounding innocent and childlike against the soothing yet suspenseful guitar melody. The vocals feel purposeful, like every word was selected to elicit the most menace with the least amount of effort, and the results are taunting without being condescending. There is a rough edge to Hames’ voice, but rather than being overemphasized, the growl is always just to the side—a not-so-gentle auditory middle finger reminding you not to be fooled by Hames’ otherwise pure voice. When she sings, “The funny thing about it is/I know you got what I need/When every time you smile/I can tell you’re just showing your teeth,” you can feel her refusal to resign to the situation and, more than that, you sense her perceptiveness. While the gentle drum rhythm is almost a lullaby and her tone would be suitable for such, the biting words show that she’s just playing a game with a temporary persona—no amount of sugarcoated niceties can hide her tough nature.
That feeling comes up time and time again throughout the album, and nowhere is it clearer than on single “The Pendulum.” Musically, the song is drastically different from “Teeth.” Its beat is far more danceable on the verses and feels as close to pop as this garage rock album ever gets. But when the guitars turn fuzzy on the chorus as Hames advises, “Don’t believe/Everything you hear/Gather all you cherish/And keep it quite near,” the connection between the tracks is instantly clear: Every drawn-out syllable is laced with a self-congratulatory snarl. And when Maria “Poni” Silver’s up-tempo drum rhythm comes back in for the next verse, Hames instantly reverts to a tone so falsely sweet that you can practically see her smirking through the line, “I can be your friend/Or I could just go and break you.”
Ettes juggles emotions on this album, covering a wide range over the course of these 13 tracks: There’s rage (“Excuse”), stoic heartbreak (“You Were There”), mocking (“My Heart”), frustrating impatience (“You Never Say”), rebellion (“Trouble With You”), reckless warning (“I Stayed Too Late”) and, finally, fearful uncertainty (“The Worst There Is”). Wicked Will offers a sprint through Ettes’ tumultuous world, and in the end, the whole ride lasts for little more than half an hour. Oddly, the one emotion that the band avoids—joy—is the one that it leaves you with in its wake.