It’s been six long years since we last heard from South Bend’s “Carp Rock Duo” The Rutebega. The band, which consists of singer/guitarist/songwriter Joshua Hensley and drummer/spiritual guru Garth Mason, has made endearing and emotionally buzzing alternative rock for the better part of 20 years. Hensley has a knack for pulling the listener into his heavy, aching songs. Songs that lock into the worlds of bands like Built To Spill, Manchester Orchestra, Antlers, and Yo La Tengo. There’s an ease and warmth in the songs; lived in and worn to a smooth, laborious shine. Dynamics used like colors on a palate to masterful effect.
On the band’s new album Leading Up To Hensley and Mason have picked up where they left off in 2016 with Unreliable Narrator. The songs build, pull back, and build once again to emotional crescendos. It’s masterful songwriting, beautifully ornamented, and shows a band still well into their prime.
“Plague” is the bombastic album opener; triumphant and filled with the grandiose. And with the line “Oh to fly above/the cretins and all of their politics” sets the tone. Despite the world falling apart, we’re not gonna let that stop us from some kind of personal enlightenment. “Fences” is pure indie pop beauty. From the ear-catching riff to the lilting harmonies and the steady rhythmic foundation. Cue cranking the car stereo.
Leading Up To never lets up throughout its 9-track run. From the epic nearly 10-minute runtime of “Gone” and it’s dreamy soundscapes to off-kilter, almost dub vibes of “Barely” to the Decemberists spirit of “Walkonahead”, this album sways in beautiful movements and naked vulnerability.
I want to say that it’s great to have The Rutabega back, but I don’t think they ever left. They’ve been hiding out like the rest of us, waiting for the right time to step back into the world we left behind in early 2020. It seems with Leading Up To they are ready. Songs filled with light and life, shimmering in the sunlight of a new world waiting just outside the door. The Rutabega are at the door, and they have something to say.