Hunt’s streak of notably excellent power-pop releases continues in kind.
Not long after his initial arrival in Madison, it was evident Graham Hunt would play a strong role in our musical landscape. Hunt’s previous work with Milwaukee-based acts like Midnight Reruns, Midwives, and Sundial Mottos had already displayed the musician’s artistic mettle. Since landing in Madison, Hunt’s solo discography, his many contributions to other Madison acts’ records, and his work in The Reptile Fund have continued to make a strong case for his gifts as a songwriter.
If You Knew Would You Believe It, released June 10, is Hunt’s second full-length album in two years, following 2021’s Painting Over Mold. Both records have a distinct, spiky power-pop gleam to them, but where Painting Over Mold opted for jaunty prickliness, If You Knew goes for a mellower route that invites intensive introspection. Not to say there aren’t knockout blows of punk-leaning rippers, either: lead-off single “Atwood” is exceptionally punchy and makes solid use of some saccharine backing vocals from Bully’s Alicia Bognanno, while opener “How Is That Different” is potent enough to blow the roof of most venues when played live. But for the most part, Hunt’s work hasn’t sounded this intentionally restrained since the shoegaze-influenced psych-pop of Sundial Mottos.
While Hunt’s abilities as a guitarist have been well-documented over the years, the relative quiet of If You Knew allows his lyrics—long one of Hunt’s most overlooked qualities as a songwriter—to take on a more apparent role. Curiously, Hunt’s approach to lyrical narrative has never been as intentionally fragmented as it is across this record. Each song has a few memorable one-liners or couplets embedded into a series of stream-of-consciousness vignettes to illustrate a specific feeling or point. While opting for greater poetic license puts the record at odds with the more streamlined, linear storytelling approach that served as an anchor on Midnight Reruns’ earlier records, it’s still as engrossing as anything in Hunt’s expansive discography.
“You gotta travel to get back to where you were” is a striking sentiment from “Deal In Air,” delivered with some venom to counterbalance the track’s gentle acoustic progression. The overlaid, Bognanno-assisted vocal punch of “what you wanna be don’t match who you are” in “Atwood” lands with a purposeful resonance. “Weedleafbitcoinflag”—named for an extremely memorable flag setup that’s been flying in the Atwood neighborhood—posits that “Things get bad every time that I start tryin’ / And you can’t win a war if you don’t know why you’re fighting,” in its chorus, bringing what’s long been one of Hunt’s central lyrical themes back into focus: finding consistency within uncertainty.
Much of If You Knew examines various stages of transition, each instance demonstrating Hunt’s acute awareness of sociological scale and the human condition. “Speeding Towards A Wall”—for which Hunt released a video last week—finds its narrator locked into a stage of perpetual self-defeat, cursed with a level of self-awareness that reveals the severity of a seemingly unbreakable habit: “Climb the ladder / dig the hole deeper.” Acoustic-driven closer “The Winning Pony” plays further into this dynamic, highlighting the peripheral complexes that plague many of Hunt’s characters, protagonists or otherwise. The possibility of a good ending is always apparent, but intentionally positioned out of the reach of Hunt’s central figures. For them, happier conclusions come by way of observation rather than experience. Risking the effort to unlock those endings always leads them to the same pitiful conclusion, as “The Winning Pony” resolves: “If they come in first, they just sit in their own mess.”
Hunt’s penchant for memorable riffs as well as impressive guitar and melodic work remain at the forefront of his music, nicely complementing an increasingly refined incorporation of lightly nostalgic late ’90s and early ’00s alt-rock touchstones. The influences of the best work of Beck, The Lemonheads, LEN, and a cavalcade of other diverse but power pop-friendly acts are all evidenced across the record, as well as the acts that have been consistently linked to Hunt’s work (Big Star, The Replacements). Through all of the familiarity, Hunt has managed to develop a style that feels authentically singular, an honest extension of his own tastes, preferences, and experiences.
Back when Midnight Reruns released their debut EP Central Time at the end of 2011, Hunt’s talent was fairly clear. Over the following 11 years, that talent has gradually expanded, resulting in some of Wisconsin’s finest power-pop contributions of the time. If You Knew suggests while Hunt may seem to be at the peak of his powers, he’s far from finished.
For those looking to catch Hunt live, he’lll be performing solo at The Bur Oak on Monday, September 12, appearing with a full-band version of TS Foss and Appleton-based songwriter Julia Blair. Hunt’s last full-band Madison excursion was a release show for If You Knew at Mickey’s on June 11. Videos from that set can be found below.
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