WOUB Exclusive: Cutler Station’s ‘Meat, No Sides’

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WOUB is proud that we had the opportunity to exclusively stream Cutler Station’s ‘Meat, No Sides’ starting Friday, July 24, 2020 through the album’s release date, Friday, July 31, 2020. It is now available for purchase on the band’s website and on all streaming platforms. Listen to it above and check out WOUB’s review below!

Cutler Station
Cutler Station from L to R: Steve Lipscomb, Jason Swiger, Kirby Evans, John Evans. (Photo by Jon Bolden)

Cutler Station – the rock ‘n’ roll band, not the country store – is open for business and they’re serving up their appropriately titled third full-length LP Meat, No Sides: a protein-packed 38-minutes crafted to sustain languished listeners weary with loss, anger, and confusion. The record is a snapshot of domestic-bliss, a celebration of the ever-confusing human experience, and an emotionally resonant caricature of “country living” from a fittingly dystopian point of view.

As the liner notes tell us, Cutler Station is, from youngest to oldest, Kirby Evans, Jason Swiger, Steve Lipscomb, and John Evans. Although the band members share multiple similarities, such as a fiery devotion to their wives and children, diplomas from Warren High School, and a love of meat-heavy barbecues; it is their shared passion for music making that inverts the toxic artist trope on its head. Instead of living to create, making their art (and thereby, themselves) the centerpiece of their existence, they seem to make music to enrich and understand emotionally rich lives that focus on their family and friends.

As a first course, we are served two equally strong tracks that illustrate the band’s duality: the exhausting corporeal catharsis of everyday life (“Wither Away”) and the psychedelic introspection (“Cellophane and Plastic”) that makes that everyday life so simultaneously mind-melting and sublime.

“Wither Away” encapsulates ennui familiar to just about everyone living in our contemporary late capitalist nightmare, at least before the COVID-19 pandemic. We hear a body and mind laid out at odds over the precise locomotion of all-star drummer Jason Swiger’s country shuffle, and it all would sound so bleak if it wasn’t so infectiously dynamic. Like any great country or blues song, “Wither Away” is at once tragic and true for a great majority of the population.

If “Wither Away” is Lipscomb’s realist anthem for the working class person, “Cellophane and Plastic” is chief Cutler Station songwriter John Evans’. A synthesizer and Athens’ beloved John Borchard’s pedal steel guitar work in near-unison amid surrealist, sometimes self-flagellating lyrics. Tomahawks, imposter syndrome, and the nullifying absolution of confronting the abyss undulate in neon strokes of sound pirouetting around a crushing sense of mortality.

Track three, “Midwest Moms,” hurtles us headfirst into refreshingly non-ironic domestic bliss. Over a restrained collage of strumming guitar and Swiger’s ever-perfect rhythmic gyrations we are handed a series of images so nostalgic we can almost see them in faded Kodachrome. Even amid the rosy sentimental recollections of crockpot meals and PTA meetings, Cutler Station inserts some dizzying realism: our Midwest mom is also preparing for Y2K. This uneasy maternal awareness of calamity’s tendency to pounce on hard won security demonstrates that aforementioned psychedelic introspection.

“Country Store Country” is also about familiar things, and in particular a phenomenon I was unaware of until I moved to Athens, OH and started dating my now husband. Apparently, what appeared to be homespun convenience stores dotting the rural, unincorporated communities surrounding Athens are not only a places to pick up milk, eggs, and bread – they are legitimately everything.

Like David Bryne’s description of “Heaven” as a “place where nothing ever happens” and his insistence that “it’s hard to imagine/that nothing at all/could be this exciting/could be this much fun,” the country store seems to be the sort of place where one can see the stitches on time’s suit, so to speak. This kind of celebrated bucolic sluggishness is just one aspect of a “country store,” which is also a place “for friends,” as well as some good mountain man bologna and maybe even last month’s issue of Jugs.

“Boredom, Love, and Pain” is the center seam of the album, planting us very much in the middle of the corporeal/ethereal duality of Cutler Station. The song itself is boisterous, its lyrical matter decidedly human. “It’s hard to take what you hear about yourself/thoughts and whispers echo from their heads/projecting boredom, love, and pain.” Here we are back in our heads – spiraling introspection while that Jason Swiger creates an animated, seemingly effortless rhythm.

“Iced Coffee” is a highly caffeinated jolt of a side B opener — it’s also where things start tripping towards the reflective side of our bilateral paradigm. Once again, Jason Swiger’s expert feel for sonic kinetics serves as tinder – this time for careening, caterwauling guitar that parts like the Red Sea around 2:47 for a delectably sparse drum and bass mini solo that might be the penultimate moment of the album.

The ecstatic riffing that concludes “Iced Coffee” with wild abandon bleeds into “AutoZone Parking Lot Kids.” Perhaps the most sonically adventurous cut on Meat No Sides, the tune turns outward the delicate innards of a social scene playing out on the stage of a parking lot of the largest American retailer of aftermarket automotive parts. Cutler Station excels at crafting songs that convey the pastoral freakiness of Appalachia like Devo articulates the disquieting creepiness of the rustbelt, and the nitrous-inhaling, neon-underbody-kit-buying “AutoZone Parking Lot Kids” are a prime example.

Starting with their 2019 self-titled, Cutler Station has had a lot of fun (for our benefit) with a sort of deranged country kitsch. Songs like “Death From Above,” “Southeast Ohio Speedster,” “Appalachian Highway,” and, of course, “Catacombs” are rife with agrarian eccentricities. The speed freaks and cryptids that populate the world the band has created are a refreshing contrast to the zeitgeist’s decades-long obsession with a romanticized vision of “country life” that only people who have only ever lived in places with reliable internet access really believe in.

“Dream” is as close as you’re going to get to a political song on the album, anchored by a stunning pedal steel mini solo denouement. This is followed up by “Livin’ on Second Chances,” which one can only hope is the first in an honorable tradition of country-tinged indie rock songs about reverse vasectomies. Being the only song on the album that is concretely about the joys of parenthood, the buoyant oddity is, as ever, anchored by Jason Swiger’s drumming and a melodious synthesizer.

Cutler Station leaves us with the ambiguous melancholy of “Didn’t I Tell Myself This All Week,” a song I only wish I could travel back in time and present to Phil Spector to record with some beehived, cat-eyed ‘60s girl group. John and Kirby’s enormously enjoyable harmony vocals furnish us with a lot of melody, but not a lot of context. We’re not going to find any obvious characters on this one, because in this case we could be hearing from the perspective of a multitude of characters. Either way, at this point we are squarely in a state of emotional malleability similar to the beauty and pain of a bruise.

The place Cutler Station conjures up on Meat, No Sides is equal parts righteous deification of the everyday and straightforward acknowledgement of human impermanence. These familiar things: Hamburger Helper on a Friday night; looking in the mirror and seeing your old man; observing clever losers charming small town cops with Grape Faygo – feel especially poignant in a time when many of us are at once separated from portions of our family and communities and cloistered with others. We are forced to confront the kaleidoscopic “boredom, love, and pain” that make up the fabric of our closest relationships – relationships we clutch with a new, seething urgency that speaks to enormous importance these people and places hold to each of us in the face of cataclysm.

Meat, No Sides salutes the material world and the mystifying internal mechanisms that make its interpretation so different to every one of us. In that way, it might be just the kind of meal, or at least just the kind of record, to satiate us all in times like these.