Al Menne has spent a lot of time driving in cars. Whether taking casual trips up and down the West Coast, touring in a van, or working as a delivery driver, they’ve become intimate with the possibility, at any moment, of disaster. “At the end of a very long driving shift,” Menne says, “there’s a moment when you realize, I shouldn’t be driving right now. Anything can happen. The road is kind of a wild place to be, and you really can’t be in control of everything that’s happening around you.” This feeling is one of the leading forces behind Freak Accident, their debut solo album that unfurls with the patient ease of a passing landscape while harboring the kinetic weight of life’s chaos at its core. On the album’s cover, a rendering of Menne by the artist Sierra Hinwood features two red eyes that blaze like the sudden flood of a car’s brake lights.
Menne came up in the music scene as the lead singer of Seattle-based rock band Great Grandpa. In this outfit, Menne’s remarkable voice—capable of quicksilver flicks between vocal registers—was on full display, despite not being the primary songwriter. Shortly after the release of their 2019 album Four of Arrows, Great Grandpa took a break due to personal and geographical life changes within the band. This pause opened up the opportunity for Menne to explore new musical pockets and step into their own as a songwriter. Aside from the occasional posting of half-finished demos on Bandcamp, Freak Accident marks their first official foray as a solo artist. “Making this album was proving to myself that I could do it, that I could feel ownership over something,” they said.
In August of 2021, Menne relocated from Seattle, where they had spent their whole life, to Los Angeles. It was there that they found themselves in the orbit of an impressive cast of collaborators and friends that brought Freak Accident to life, including producer Christian Lee Hutson, engineer and mixer Melina Duterte (Jay Som), and guitarist Meg Duffy (Hand Habits). Over the next year and a half, from within Duterte’s snug attic recording studio in Atwater, the crew crafted the world of these nine songs, which are filled with clever melodies and honeyed, homespun rock arrangements that showcase Menne’s taut songwriting.
Menne’s songs manage to collapse a maze of gnarled and twisted emotions into clear, direct, and inviting pathways. On lead single “Kill Me,” they subvert the expectations of the eye-roll phrase “kill me now,” turning it from a sarcastic dead-pan into a heartfelt plea for love. “Do you remember saying / ‘it’d scare you to death to know how much I love you?’ / Kill me now please please please,” they sing, urging the person on the other side—the one they can’t control, just as they can’t control the other cars on the road—to take the leap into love. This deeper meaning is illuminated as the refrain repeats in the song’s climax, looping over itself again and again, building like the dripping wax from a candle until it takes on a new solid form.
It’s one example of how Menne uses both humor and repetition as access points to something more profound across the album—a kind of headlight sweep that guides our attention from levity to gravity. “W/ Arms Wide Open” embeds a sly nod to Creed into a tender track about the particular love of a lifelong friendship, while luminous ballad “What U Want” sees Menne impishly thumbing their nose at “the art kids” and then immediately veering into admissions of their own vulnerability. Then there’s the acerbic refrain of the title track—amplified by group vocals from musician and comedian Whitmer Thomas—which reshapes a self-deprecating and faintly ominous admission into a mantra that seems to embrace all of life’s whims: “I’m a freak accident / head-on collision just waiting to happen.”
Embedded in the act of calling themself a “freak” is the underlying feeling of not belonging, which Menne calls “a big theme in the writing. I grew up feeling like I don’t really belong. I felt kind of like an outsider in my own family for a little bit. I’d ask myself, why do I feel so weird in all of these situations? And I think it’s because I’m trans, and I didn’t know it then.” This sense of physical and emotional displacement results in moments of missed connection that resound across the album like unanswered beacons. “Am I not who you thought I would be?” they ask on the propulsive “Grandma’s Garden,” a question that calcifies into the affirmative on “What U Want:” “I cannot be what you want.” Chilling single “Beth” makes a direct bid for closeness and acceptance to a family member whose severe hoarding tendencies and unexamined traumas have caused an insurmountable distance between them. “I could hold you now if you show me how,” Menne sings, the vocals tracked close and dry, exposing every granulation of their glistening geode of a voice.
The album’s closing track “Careful Heart,” then, is ultimately a song of redemption. “I wrote it about somebody who has made me feel so cared for, like I belong. I feel very seen by them,” Menne shares. That person is their partner Nico Jodi Levine, whose pedal steel playing provides a backbone of bright musical brushstrokes across the album. It’s a triumphant closer that completes the album’s arc: Menne has found the love and acceptance they were looking for. There is always the risk of collision as two independent bodies come together, but building a little life together—Menne insists over the heart-stirring twang of Levine’s dobro—is worth it.
At just under thirty minutes, Freak Accident is an inviting meditation on seeking protection from life’s chaotic thunderbolts in our relationships and connections. These songs, like small smooth rocks pocketed for self-soothing, serve to shore us up against situations that are ultimately out of our control. On tracks that veer through canyons, careen across highways, and wend through the avenues of memory, Menne offers us a way through.
By the final track, though, they aren’t driving anymore—they’re listening to the passing cars, “feeling centered, feeling calm.” They’re stationary, putting down roots. It’s the sound of someone who has finally arrived.
Publicity Contact: Eloy Lugo