The debut LP from the Chicago indie-rock band Bnny has the sound of an empty bedroom. Everything features a solitary lead electric guitar that gasps, reverberates thickly, and then deadens, as if resonating between walls recently stripped of room-softening decor. Jessica Viscius, the songwriter behind the project (and former Pitchfork graphic designer), barely allows her voice to vibrate above a whisper, like she’s committing song ideas to a recorder alone at night in a window-side chair. In the moments when her full band does show up to keep time or add some texture, they seem to materialize like a figment of her imagination that she can summon when she shuts her eyes. Multiple songs sound a lot like the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes.”
On those minimal characteristics alone, Everything is a beautiful record from wall to wall, comfort food for heartbroken insomniacs. But it also arrives with a tragic background that casts an entirely different kind of shadow over the evocation of an empty bedroom. In September of 2017, Viscius’ former partner, Trey Gruber, died of an accidental overdose of heroin that was laced with fentanyl. Gruber was also a gifted musician who had formally released just one song and played only a few shows under the name Parent, but they were enough to ignite a rolling word-of-mouth buzz through the city about the soulful, wounded-sounding singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. After his passing, Viscius spent the next couple of years preserving Gruber’s recorded output alongside his mother, compiling and releasing the 25-song double LP Herculean House of Cards for Numero Group. With that chapter now closed, Viscius finally takes her turn to sing. Everything is a long-awaited debut that resembles a journal spanning five years, its first half consisting of songs written during her relationship with Gruber and its second half of ones after it. It is worth every year that went into it.
When Viscius first began writing songs, a waterlogged sound was emerging from Chicago indie-rock. A proudly lo-fi recording quality gave a satisfying wobble to both the wilting grace of Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home and the tinnitus-inducing crash of NE-HI’s self-titled debut. Some songs here bear the distinct markings of that mid-decade time and place: “Sure” takes notes from Olsen’s “Lights Out” but flips the idea from an encouraging nudge forward to resigned acceptance of a slow freefall. “Time Walk” is a masterclass in economy, barely running over 90 seconds but somehow rocking extremely hard through muted breath, nicely punctuated by a jagged, seven-second solo from Tim Makowski, who plays some fantastically cracked and frail lead guitar lines throughout the album. Seconds later, on “So Wrong,” his solo falls somewhere between Yo La Tengo’s “Today Is the Day” and a slowed-down sample of a cat groaning to its sleeping owner for breakfast. In sequence, they make for a binge-worthy three-song run.
But it’s the back half of Everything that reroutes its course from a restless exhibition of stripped-down songs to an affirmation of the will to press on. For all the album’s stillness, there’s not much tranquil about the place where Viscius was writing these final songs from, and collectively, they serve as a twofold love letter: they’re about Gruber, but also about the complicated love for his memory. She calls out to him by his name on “Dreaming” and finds peace in planting a flower and replacing a young life on “Little Flower.” Then, in a gutting final step, she ends the album with a voice recording of the two, slowly singing a song fragment together over three acoustic chords. It’s a vivid representation of the fleeting memories that she learns to live alongside on Everything, and a final moment for the two songwriters to sing together.
Buy: Rough Trade
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