Music We Love: "Exit 454a" by Mousehearted

It isn’t every day a Denton supergroup quietly releases a painfully sincere and beautiful record. We’re accustomed to the well-deserved fanfare of the album release party or show, or the excitement of the leaked single ahead of the entire package. Chances are you’d never heard of Mousehearted until this very moment. All we can say is this: you’re welcome.

Mousehearted is comprised of Ira Wile, Hale Baskin, Ryan Williams, Bethany Hardwick, Brent Best, Cody Robinson, Will Kapinos, and Allison Wheeler. At its core, however, it’s essentially Wile’s baby. Wile wrote the songs and handpicked the players—some of them good friends, some of them former Starhead bandmates—to accompany the pieces. Although he lists Jason Molina, Will Johnson, The Afghan Whigs, PJ Harvey, and Elliott Smith as influences, there are even deeper and perhaps unintentional twinges of influence present: flashes of Brian Eno, Nick Drake, and even a little (may he rest in peace) Leonard Cohen.

“It’s kinda three records,” Wile says. “Celebrations of love I’d never had before.”

Wile has even described the project as a love letter. And that’s how it sounds. As any recipient can attest, love letters tend to be effuse and brutally honest. Such is the nature Exit 454a. The album navigates confession and concealment masterfully: in the first track, “Harvester,” Wile sings of hurt hawks, cold suns, and gardens, only directly hinting once that he’s speaking of “the home we made / with empty cots.” The album is well-balanced—songs like “Peach Moon” and “Bury Me Standing” are just heavy enough to break a heart, but “Deep” and “Long Days and Pleasant Nights” are around the corner to mend one.

Exit 454a also owes a few debts of gratitude to outside forces. The album includes an Okkervil River cover (“For Real”), a few lines lifted from Bach (on “Peach Moon” and “Long Days and Pleasant Nights”), and some words adapted from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (on the final track, “Gunslinger.”) Regardless, the project has a voice that’s all its own, distinctively human and tangible, due in no small part to Wile’s songwriting (which is, in our opinion, essentially poetry. Try to listen to “Deep” without tearing up.) There’s an enduring quality about these songs, whether in the stunning string harmonies, the vastness of a simple guitar line, or Wile singing of “love like cockleburs.” Listen to the whole thing in one take, but prepare to find yourself at a loss for any adjective but “ineffable.”

Mousehearted’s Exit 454a—which was released with Denton’s WOW Signal Recording Company—is available starting today. You can click here to stream and/or purchase the album. Rumor has it that physical CDs will also be available, and you may want to follow Mousehearted’s Facebook page to stay updated.

Header image design by Jason Lee