Review Summary: I can move my thumb
Westelaken's third full-length effort is one that zooms in and out of focus. At times it feels unapproachable and unwieldy, oscillating between expansive folk and psychedelic fever dreams; other times it feels perfectly vulnerable and human, making earnest but measured observations about mortality whilst raising questions whose answers extend into the ether. As I am Steaming Mushrooms
blurs and crystallizes, there's this sense that all things, and ideas, sort of exist together in mysterious, nonlinear harmony -- shadows and lightness dancing, intertwined.
Creative whimsy is nothing new for Westelaken, who have illustrated an appetite for experimentation dating back to their eponymous country-punk debut in 2018. The Golden Days Are Hard
sanded down some of their rougher edges, but retained the winding turns and ever-lurking erraticism that have become so ingrained in their fabric. I am Steaming Mushrooms
takes their unpredictability to new heights, however: it's a slow-to-unravel, moody stream-of-consciousness that covers a vast sonic spectrum while also finding the beauty in empty space.
This is immediately apparent on "Ozzy's Palace", a drifting, ambivalent thirteen-minute folk ballad whose aura is akin to an afternoon spent laying in a verdant pasture, watching clouds unhurriedly float across the sky. The song occasionally builds towards miniature flourishes, but it always ends up backing off and retreating to its gentle ebb and flow; it’s a lush space brimming with elegance and nuance. Inserting such a placid, lengthy cut front-and-center is bold, but it serves as something of a mission statement for I am Steaming Mushrooms
: Westelaken is going to follow their artistic vision, even when it eschews convention.
Things go from zen-like to thought-provoking on album highlight "Pear Tree", a song centered around a group of friends who offer differing philosophical views on a dead body that’s washed up on the shoreline. Lucas Temor's luminous piano creates the perfect canvas for Jordan Seccareccia’s insights regarding what happens – or doesn’t happen – after you die: "What do you expect? A ferry to carry you across a stream / Where everything you’ve ever lost is there, waiting? / That some capricious father doesn’t care where you’ve been / Even though he cast you out for eternity / For stealing fruit, from a pear tree?"
The closest that they come to arriving at a consensus is during the final verse, and it also serves as something of a thematic summation of the entire record: "The universe, fundamentally, is a knowable place / There’s some good, and there’s some evil / But there’s mostly empty space."
As you delve into the body of Steaming Mushrooms
, you'll find that the music refuses to conform to a single aesthetic. In contrast to the first two songs’ nearly meditative approach, "Fixed Up By Orange Light" is a lively full-band effort, with Seccareccia's buzzing riffs joined by Alex Baigent’s rich bass, Rob McLay's energetic percussion, Temor's jaunty piano performance, Rachael Cardiello's gorgeous viola, and Rachel Bellone's dynamic guest vocals. It all comes together for a track that feels spirited, hopeful, and brimming with a sense of adventure – an extraction of Westelaken’s pure essence. Then there’s "Annex & Clinic Pharmacy", which alternates between smooth glides and sudden bursts while Temor’s piano delivers the band’s finest instrumental hook to date. "Ribcage" brings an air of rustic simplicity with its melodic banjo plucks and beautiful assessment of heartbreak: "When you told me that you loved me I believed it, and I still do / Now I’ve forgotten every feeling, the joys and passions of anything new / And I can’t tell the shape of my insides from the design carved out by you."
On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, we get the downright terrifying "Polar Bears", which portrays a series of unsettling dreams: polar bears chase their human prey at the narrator's old schoolyard; a friend desperately clutches another’s chest for protection as their father bursts down the door frantically and foaming at the mouth; another friend calls for Jordan to come outside to her car at 4am and takes him to watch some trees blowing violently in the wind: "We turned to look across tall grass and mud / And she said, 'See how the trees go dancing, like the rapture came just for the pines?'"
Amid the track's eerie psychedelic leanings, dissonant vocal/guitar combination, and warped unintelligible wails, "Polar Bears" is truly the stuff nightmares are made of. Almost as if to help the listener regain their footing, "Fossilhead" is a slow and steady trudge comprised of an unrelenting but ascending drum beat that eventually rises to overtake Seccareccia's layered vocals and Temor's medley. To navigate I am Steaming Mushroom
is to abide by its disorienting twists and turns; to embrace the uncertainty of what may come next.
It's in this spirit that the curtain-call, "I Can Hear The Highway", was written. It tells a brief story of a man who wants to build a better future for himself, but can't seem to shake free from the constraints of his present: "Last year, you said that you’d quit / Go back to school and build a new life for yourself / Five years from now, you’ll say the same thing about four years from now."
It's ultimately a song about overcoming "the highway", which Seccareccia refers to multiple times as a symbol of the droning sound of the machine
– or people's tendency to fall into place and serve a role instead of serving themselves. "But I can't join them, I can't 'become'"
, Jordan laments, adding with a sense of helplessness "I can't avoid them, I can't outrun"
. The last line of the album is a simple one, but it feels empowering in context: "I can move my thumb"
. One of the primary themes of I am Steaming Mushrooms
is finding comfort in uncertainty, whether it’s literally not knowing what Westelaken have up their sleeves next, pondering the significance of death, or facing the future head-on. The universe may indeed be mostly empty space
, but there’s something promising about that. It gives us the freedom to write our own stories…to move our thumbs
and create something
out of that void. To exist is to be uncertain, and what a beautiful feeling it is to gaze towards the stars at night and know that within the chaotic, complex universe, we simply are
. It’s a notion exemplified by Westelaken’s musical spirit, as they continue to push their art deep into the unknown. I am Steaming Mushrooms
is their most beautiful, mysterious, and enlightening venture yet.