Reading the liner notes of The Narrator’s newest album is like scanning scraps of some young dissenter’s midnight ramblings: cryptically poetic, romantically tragic and teetering on neurotic. The lyrics of the second track, “Pregnant Boys,” are reproduced written on an Employee Suggestions slip—only the song is less a suggestion than an opaque realization: “Erase the sound of going down / But is this what you worked for? / It looks like we’re bored but we’re only dying.”
Life’s malaise seeps through every one of the Chicago-based band’s oblique melodies. Despite the fact that the source of The Narrator’s angst (offset perfectly by poppy hooks, coy affectations and an occasional “woo hoo!”) is difficult to discern, the sincerity and vivid imagery of each song make the sense of doom seem earned. Such Triumph turns almost political on songs like “Now is the Time for All Good Men” and “This Party’s Over”—the latter featuring the line, “We are so filled with the ghosts of our blue state’s hour.” Whatever that means.
Like the atypical lyrics, the instrumentation is rarely grounded in chorus-verse-chorus formula. The debris of haunting vocal rounds and ragged feedback provides riveting rock with an add-on of intrigue. (Erika Fredrickson)
The Narrator plays with Nocturnal Emission and Ass-End Offend at the Elk’s Lodge Tuesday, June 14, at 9 PM. $5.
Wicked Twisted Road
Sugar Hill Records
Reckless Kelly’s fifth album is designed to be the quintet’s big leap onto the national stage, a catapult from bar band (they started by tending bar between stints playing every Monday and Friday at Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar, in Austin, Texas) to country-rock stardom. There’s just enough magic on Wicked Twisted Road to make it happen.
The title track is pure, dusty, front-porch crooning, with lead singer Willy Braun’s gravelly delivery (eerily similar to Steve Earle here) offset by a sugary harmony of mandolin and fiddle. He sings: “My first love was a wild, sinful night / I ran out with the big dogs but I had more bark than bite.” This track, along with the second, “Dogtown,” are two of the slower ones on the album, and are followed by an elegant (if you can use that word in this genre) Irish jig—a misleading but ultimately appropriate beginning.
The rest of the album builds like a NASCAR race, heavy at times on the Texas twang (“These Tears”) and testosterone (“Sixgun”), but consistently energetic. It’s that hard-charging spirit—not to mention the grassroots beginnings—that earn Reckless Kelly’s reputation as an impressive, generous live band. One that, after Road, may be on the way to bigger things. (Skylar Browning)
Reckless Kelly opens for The Duhks at The Other Side Saturday, June 11, at 9 PM. Tickets are $12 for over 21 and $14 for under.
Mother’s Daughter and Other Songs
Static Caravan Recordings
Tunng’s debut album is exquisitely mixed, dark, psychedelic folktronica. Singer/guitarist Sam Genders and producer Mike Lindsay reportedly got their start making background music for softcore porn, but their current musical venture is less evocative of lovemaking than of blood-covered heathens dancing around a fire.
There hasn’t been a great deal of music like this coming out of Britain, so it’s safe to assume that many of Tunng’s influences are on our side of the Atlantic. America’s acid-folk scene has had a lot of press coverage in English magazines, including a feature in The Wire that helped catapult the genre into Britain’s mainstream consciousness. U.S. inspirations like Devendra Banhart and Drekka certainly come to mind listening to Mother’s Daughter and Other Songs, but Tunng brings a unique flavor to the sound. Rather than relying on the Jeweled Antler collective-style drones that have so many hipsters wetting themselves these days, Tunng’s acoustic guitar melodies float above processed drums, mellow vocal harmonies, granulized samples and violin to create an eerie, almost medieval sonic palate. It’s also refreshing to hear a vocalist making music in this style who doesn’t sound like he has his testicles and nasal passages clamped. Definitely an act to watch. (Adam Fangsrud)
Almost Like Tonight (Live)
Blue Pie Music
Erica Wheeler’s new album, given her impressive vocal ability, is charming, but never delivers the needed body blow to reach elite status. For instance, if not for the title, one might never know that Almost Like Tonight (Live) is actually a live album. There’s little juice and an absence of palpable energy, save for the sporadic inclusion of golf applause at strategic moments. Except for an awesome rendition of James McMurtry’s “Angeline,” the songs here—touching on topics like family trips to historic East Coast battlefields and lemonade—don’t carry much heft and fail to reach any type of crescendo that would suggest live performance. Mostly recorded at a 2004 Valentine’s Night concert in Homestead, Fla., the CD thankfully offers some of Wheeler’s trademark banter, but fails to deliver much more.
Wheeler has been compared to Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dar Williams, which is valid on the evidence of her voice. There’s little doubt that vocally and instrumentally, she is one of the select few at the forefront of her genre. However, Almost Like Tonight sounds like a wasted opportunity. (Haines Eason).
Erica Wheeler appears at the Roxy Theater Wednesday, June 15, at 8 PM. Tickets are $10 in advance from Rockin Rudy’s, $12 at the door.