PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Last Town Chorus: Wire Waltz

It's not twangy enough to be country, it's too languid to be called pop -- it's just, well, dreamy.

The Last Town Chorus

Wire Waltz

Label: Hacktone
US Release Date: 2007-03-06
UK Release Date: 2006-10-23

Megan Hickey was a Brooklyn-based bass player trying to start a band when, one day, she picked up a friend's 1940s-era lap steel guitar and found her musical niche -- and what a distinctive niche she's uncovered. While the Last Town Chorus is the tag for Hickey's rotating collective, the ultimate focus of Wire Waltz is rightfully on her: her enchanting voice and sinuous, self-taught steel guitar. With some basic accompaniment, Hickey creates beautiful, elegant music.

The opening and title track introduces the basic motif: that voice and that steel guitar. They fill the speakers -- transformative, fragile, and yet full. A plaintive fiddle sketches the tune and a piano chimes here and there as Hickey's reverbed and multi-tracked vocals draw you in. The same formula follows into the next song, "You", and you might very happily assume that this resonant, mid-tempo technique will carry through the rest of the album.

Instead, the songs that follow bring unexpected diversity and experimentation. "Its Not Over" builds to a swirling psychedelic finale, featuring the album's most prominent rhythm section and more than a few overdubs. The push and pull of "Boat" successfully navigates a tricky sonic palette that manages to sound simultaneously dense and minimalist. The wistful "Wintering in Brooklyn" is pleasantly folky and vaguely reminiscent of The Cowboy Junkies. Sprightly "Caroline" is a hidden pop gem whose uncommon steel guitar takes the song out of the mainstream and into the transcendent. Who knew the lap steel could serve songs so well as a lead instrument?

"Huntsville 1989" is the album's reigning success. Employing an almost lethargic trip-hop vibe, Hickey's shimmering steel guitar casts a convincing heat over her autobiographical and almost spoken-word lyrics. New-to-town teenagers ("ninth grade refugees") will find tangible truth in couplets like "Alabama '89/ I found the kids with boots like mine" and "goin' to bed each night with a Smiths cassette and diary writing /goin' to school each day with pocket change and an Oscar Wilde book/ waiting for words to save my life". The song is unconventional, uncomplicated, and highly engaging.

The album's sole cover is an excellent interpretation, as Bowie's "Modern Love" lyrics echo the same bittersweet and lovelorn themes found within Hickey's originals. She deconstructs the song into a breathy and cinematic meditation, one which caught the ears of Grey's Anatomy producers, who featured it in a recent episode. It's only when Wire Waltz veers too much towards melodrama that it missteps. "Understanding" suffers from a distracting over-use of its title word, while "Foreign Land" aims to parallel the peculiarity of a person and a place, but comes off awkwardly directionless.

Wire Waltz ultimately benefits most from its contradictions. Though seemingly dependent upon a simple formula, there's a breadth and depth of texture in these arrangements. Moreover, despite the fact that Hickey employs a "classic country" instrument, she creates a sound that is more urban than rural. It's not twangy enough to be country, it's too languid to be called pop -- it's just, well, dreamy. Hickey recorded Wire Waltz in her home studio, and also takes the producing and engineering credits. She has said that she's found her "own little piece of the sonic universe". It is one that I'm more than happy to inhabit.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.