Gretchen’s Wheel is the “band” moniker of the multi-talented Lindsay Murray, who has just released her fourth album, Black Box Theory. As with each of her previous releases, this is another major leap forward, filled with quality songwriting, arranging, production and performances that will leave you wanting more.
A 99% solo performance (Ms. Murray handles all guitars, bass keyboards and vocals; Nick Bertling plays drums and adds extra guitars and keyboards) and self-produced, from the moment “Untethered” kicks in with its raging yet melodic guitars, you know this is one album you want to take in, end to end. Ms. Murray’s warm voice perfectly offsets the heaviness of the guitars, which when you listen are so tight with one another, and her call-and-response harmonies are on-the-one. “Plans” reminds me of mid-period R.E.M. (around the New Adventures In Hi-Fi-era), with the angular guitar figures that lead in to a poppy chorus and “Lucid” is a BIG, lush and uptempo piece that easily screams “radio hit” – if I close my eyes, I can imagine this being played on the old WHTG 106.3 as I drive at a high speed; it has a visual quality and dramatic feel that makes this one of the album’s highest points and you cannot help but take note of the angelic background vocals.
“Aftermath” is one of the slower moments; thoughtful, filled with clean and just-right guitar riffs and fills; it’s slightly melancholic with its minor chords and helps balance the other full-throttle tracks and the atmospherics in the middle push the song even higher; “Imp” is the other “follow up” radio hit, which kicks hard, yet joyfully, while making a complete musical turn, structurally, on the chorus. What makes this song such a standout is the unexpected melodic shift – and showcases Ms. Murray’s skill/talent as a songwriter to be able to pull this off with such ease and “A Tourist” is the album’s gentle closer – ethereally gorgeous vocals (lead and background); a sweet keyboard melody and yet, in the middle, there is a moment of explosive guitar and drums but it doesn’t negate the overall feel of the song’s soft nature.
Unsurprisingly, Gretchen’s Wheel has yet, again, delivered on what I would have expected (especially after the last album, the head-turning Sad Scientist) – Lindsay Murray is a sharp, precise and gifted songwriter (musician talents notwithstanding) and this may be her finest piece of work. Certainly, this is one of those albums any songwriter would be proud to make – and Ms. Murray can be satisfied that she has, once more, left us wanting to see what Gretchen’s Wheel will do next.
Black Box Theory is available now.