WHO ARE THEY? The loose alt-rock collective centered around singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Scott McCaughey, a Pacific Northwest cult hero and eccentric popster whose resume includes bands like Young Fresh Fellows, Baseball Project, Venus Three, Tuatara and Filthy Friends — in addition to 17 years as an auxiliary member of R.E.M.
WHAT IS THIS? His umpteenth M5 full-length — and first new music after suffering a debilitating 2017 mid-tour stroke that completely erased his extensive musical catalogue from his memory and had doctors predicting he’d never play again.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Remarkably together. The disc was reportedly assembled with plenty of help from pals and bandmates like Peter Buck, Jeff Tweedy and Corin Tucker, so it’s hard to know precisely how much of McCaughey’s musical skill has returned (though he reportedly played and recorded much of the music on the disc). Either way, his vocals sound clear and strong, and his songwriting seems strangely wonderful as ever — though his idiosyncratic ways obviously work in his favour somewhat. The biggest difference clearly seems to be in his lyrics, which he began writing in his hospital bed days after his stroke. They’re full of colourful, poetic oddities like, “What tears you apart may later wing into homestead” and “Monday fraught the moods across the rat and many moons.” The overall effect somehow manages to be whimsical and deeply moving at the same time.
WHAT WOULD BE A BETTER TITLE FOR THIS ALBUM? There isn’t one.
HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? While marveling not only at McCaughey’s determination to get back on his creative feet — but also his ability to pull it off so impressively. A distinctive and dynamic disc that cunningly draws upon both his strengths and weaknesses, Stroke Manor is right up there with anything he’s ever done.
WHAT 10 WORDS DESCRIBE IT? Weird, wonderful, skewed, fuzzy, kaleidoscopic, surreal, poignant, brave, devil-may-care, sweet.
WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? Garage-rockers like My Collection, Beach Boys and Beach Girls, Well In Fact She Said and MRI make some of the biggest splashes, but really, there isn’t a dud in the bunch.
WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY SAY? ‘Was he always this weird?’ Yes, he was.
HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO THIS? If you were already a fan, you’ll love it. If you weren’t a fan before, this should make you one.
IF THIS ALBUM WERE A RUSSIAN HISTORICAL FIGURE, WHO WOULD IT BE? Rasputin.
SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL? He’s already paid the price. It’s your turn.