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It’s taken D.C. fuzz rockers Big Hush the better part of a year to shake the shoegaze from their system. On the band’s new record—which we’re premiering ahead of its official release tomorrow on local cassette label DZ Tapes—that year-long journey has led the four-piece to a far louder, and at times, poppier place.

The band recorded its new five-song EP, Who’s Smoking Your Spirit?, this summer at vocalist/guitarist Owen Wuerker’s home in Brookland. Since then, the members of Big Hush have been meticulously mixing Spirit to dovetail with the sound it’s acquired over dozens of gigs since the release of its first EP, Wholes, last November.

Wholes was punctuated by light, sparse guitars and easy melodies, but the actual music on the record at times receded into the background, like some quiet buzz over an old radio. The album has its moments—fellow singer and guitarist Genevieve Ludwig’s vocals on “Honey” sparkle even as the instruments muddle together in the distance, and the sleepy western jangle of “Wrong House” reaches real sonic heights at the song’s crescendo. But elsewhere, the record was so gaze-y it became gauzy; far more hushed than big.

The band’s sound began to transform in the weeks and months after Wholes came out, for myriad reasons. Following Wholes’ release, Big Hush booked and played a consistent slate of live shows—several a month if it could. All of the band’s songs, including then-new tracks that would become Who’s Smoking Your Spirit?, grew faster and louder as it tailored its sound to a live audience.

“At one point,” Wuerker says, “we just decided to turn up a lot more.” Plus, the band switched drummers just after it recorded Wholes, bringing onboard Emma Baker and her more aggressive style. Songwriting duties changed, too. While Ludwig wrote most of the songs on Wholes, she split songwriting duties on Spirit with bassist Chris Taylor. Taylor wrote the EP’s two loudest and perhaps most punk-tinged tracks—“Say Anything” and the EP’s terrific closer, “Walk On.” Wuerker’s excellent studio work ensured the EP’s sound remained consistent track to track, but Taylor’s songwriting breaks from the band’s previous mold. “I was trying really hard to write like how we sound, and that’s what came out,” Taylor says, suggesting it was something of a failure—but a new Big Hush was born in the process.

Although Wuerker shrugged off the suggestion Big Hush ever dabbled in pop music, the new EP exposes the band’s knack for infectious hooks. On “Cold Shoulder,” pulsing guitar and bass ride distortion to the front of the mix, while the dual vocals seem to exist on another plane entirely. Then, more than two-and-a-half minutes into the track’s gurgle and feedback, a pop song breaks out, with Ludwig momentarily winning a battle with the music, long enough to deliver the album’s catchiest refrain. It’s just a moment, of course. Big Hush still dabbles in shoegaze even when the drift and reverb seems to be holding a decent pop song’s head underwater. But that’s indicative of the band’s current state of being. This moment in Big Hush involves a catchy hook or two.

That’s more or less the plan, Wuerker and Taylor suggest. There’s no grander idea, no mission to fit into any one genre. That’s why it stuck with EPs, rather than full-length albums, over their short time as a band: It’s more interested in capturing where Big Hush is at any one moment than dedicating to one particular sound for too long.

It’s funny, Taylor says: Everything in life tends to be a reaction to something else. “If it’s been raining all week and you’ve been inside, the obvious thing to do when it’s sunny out is to go out and get dirty,” he says. Spirit has been the band’s loud, sometimes messy reaction to the clean, quiet sound on Wholes. Next time? Who knows. “Probably the next record is going to be really pretty,” he says.

You can order Who’s Smoking Your Spirit? here. Big Hush will play a release show tonight with Wildhoney and Cigarette at Black Cat. 1811 14th St. NW. 7:30 p.m., $12. 

Photo by Lang Kanai