Ted Leo has long been indie rock’s beating heart, dressing up his punk fury with a grin. His songs with his band the Pharmacists aren’t necessarily optimistic–he often sings for the unwanted and the dispossessed–but they are incessant. Aimee Mann, who collaborated with Leo in the Both, recently observed that he always sings and plays just a fraction ahead of the beat, a “straining-at-the-leash quality” that makes his music both righteous and kinetic.
Leo’s empathy comes from a real place. In a sobering article for Stereogum, he admitted he had been sexually assaulted as a kid; he and his wife also lost their daughter to a premature birth. The Hanged Man–Leo’s first album in seven years, and his first solely credited to him–deals with this emotional fallout. He recorded the bulk of it in his Providence, Rhode Island house, and you can hear that roominess, that sense of home. “You’re Like Me” is rough around the edges, weaving in and out of what sounds like a demo version of the song. But that roughness is integral to the radical empathy at the song’s heart. The unsaid message in so much music–and art in general–is a shared burden of imperfection. On “You’re Like Me,” Ted Leo is shouting that message loud and clear.
“You’re Like Me” appears on The Hanged Man, out now. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists play the Mohawk on October 28.
–Art Levy // host, Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., producer, My KUTX