On “Bull Believer,” Wednesday songwriter Karly Hartzman invokes the classic fatality command from Mortal Kombat, sighing “finish him” into the mic before shifting into a raging snarl and nerve rattling wail. “Bull Believer” is the epic-length second song from Asheville-based indie rock band Wednesday’s fifth album Rat Saw God. Its raw lyricism is indicative of the manner pop culture language functions in the band’s Americana and shoegaze-evoking art-rock compositions. Like the rest of the album, it’s grimly funny and shocking in its beauty. Populated with nods and references to authors like George Saunders, Richard Brautigan, video games, Formula 1 racing, and Veronica Mars—the title references the name of the sixth episode of the second season, for those keeping track—Rat Saw God is a guided tour of internal psycho-geography, with stops at Dollywood, Starbucks, and Dollar General scattered along the way. It’s also one of the best rock & roll records of 2023.

In the sonic world of Wednesday, the pained guitars of Pinkerton-era Weezer sit raggedly alongside revved up country rock—think Lucinda Williams if she’d grown up on dream pop, Superchunk, and The Smashing Pumpkins. Many of the album’s best moments come when Hartzman locks in with fellow guitarist MJ Lenderman and lap steel shredder Xandy Chelmis, careening wildly while bassist Margo Schultz and drummer Alan Miller hold down the rhythm, alternating between woozy sways and frenzied amp worship cascades. They say the difference between tragedy and comedy is all in the timing. Hartzman might agree. Quoting St. Augustine earlier in the lyrics of “Bull Believer,” she implores, “God, make me good, but not quite yet.” She’s got a few wisecracks to share before redemption sets in.

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