If there’s one party you’ll want an invite to this summer, it’s Chuck Cleaver’s. Known for Wussy and Ass Ponys, Cleaver is bringing us his first official solo effort, Send Aid, and it feels tailor-made for sweaty jumping around and late-night campfire-side beer drinking. Heavy guitars, plenty of fuzz, and Cleaver’s perfectly imperfect vocals — a little woozy, a little spitfire — lend a lived-in comfort to his songs about life’s uncertainties. And his seamless blending of garage rock and melodic pop keeps things intriguing, even as he’s confronting his fear of death or telling homespun stories about life in a small steel town in Ohio.
The hammering twang of guitars make Send Aid feel like a dancing record, but if you listen closely you’ll hear dark tales of suspense and Cleaver’s own sweet memories of rocking out to Chumbawamba around the house with his daughter. The latter, titled “Folk Night at Fucky’s,” is a fleeting standout on Send Aid for its rootsy acoustic sound and Cleaver’s fuzzed out harmonies. Listening to it feels like digging up a beloved old photograph we thought we’d lost forever, one that puts us right back in that exact place we want to be, with everything still just as it was. This rose-colored retrospective comes into play elsewhere on Send Aid, especially on “Anything,” in which Cleaver seems to call himself out for idealizing a past that was actually quite painful.
Cleaver is never better than when he’s in self-deprecating mode, like on “Mess” and “Terrible Friend,” both the kinds of songs you want to sing along to with your friends after a few drinks. At its best, Send Aid feels like a warm hug from an old buddy. It welcomes you in, tells you an incredible story, makes you laugh (or cry), and leaves you better off than you were before.