On Sister Death, their first album since 2007’s The Blind Spot, accordionist Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores deliver a lushly orchestrated, epically sweeping, Lynchian mix of creepy cinematic themes and towering gypsy-infused art-rock. Redfearn’s rich, often funereal tones blend with the even more macabre swirls and torrents from Orion Rigel Dommisse ‘s Acetone Top-5 organ: she plays the Lynch Girl on this album, and often steals the show. The core of this shapeshifting Providence, Rhode Island band includes Matt McLaren on drums, Chris Sadlers on bass, Clint Heidorn on guitar and the father-daughter team of Jimmy and Hannah Divine on violins along with a mammoth supporting cast. Redfearn has an enormous talent base to draw from, and in concert has been known to bring anything from a stripped-down quartet to a mighty fifteen-piece chamber orchestra.
The album opens with Fire Shuffle, a brisk, murderously chromatic epic, the casualness of the guy/girl vocals downplaying the darkness of the music: “Burn with me awhile, leave the wreckage far behind,” Redfearn and Dommisse intone. Chris Turner contributes a ferociously intense, feedback-charged chromatic harp solo to fan the flames.. The second track, Unawake, reaches for the same kind of orchestral sweep even though it’s over in just over two minutes. The Seven and Six, a slowly menacing 6/8 ballad, has the accordion rising through the mix with an increasingly distorted, gritty texture beneath Redfearn’s mythologically-inspired wordplay.
Terse tremolo guitar and creepy bells gently propel Longreach, a totally Lynchian instrumental, followed by the trickily rhythmic Amplifier Hum, its faux Bulgarian folk vocals (in English!) a throwback to the band’s earlier days working a more avant-garde vein. Black Ice begins with a solo accordion taqsim and builds to a massive Balkan dance, funeral organ mingling with the accordion and intricately multitracked guitar from Domenick Panzarella. A creepy waltz, Exhumed is sort of a gypsy take on Julee Cruise Twin Peaks noir pop, Redfearn’s baritone uke mimicking a Spanish guitar, Dommisse playing femme fatale once again over an echoey dead-girl choir.
With a more straight-ahead beat, Scratch would be horror surf instead of Balkan rock – Redfearn’s long, searing, minimalist accordion solo out is adrenalizing to say the least. They follow that with Hashishin, a matter-of-factly swaying, trippily macabre Middle Eastern instrumental jam, the baritone uke running through a Big Muff pedal for extra menace. By contrast, Redfearn’s cover of St. James Infirmary gets a skeletal steampunk treatment, ending with a murderous, digeridoo-like drone from the bass pedals on a Hammond organ. The most inscrutable – and least menacing – number here is Wings of the Magpie, with its surreal 70s space-rock vibe. The album closes with a dire, In the Morning, Roger Waters meets the Walkabouts.
Redfearn is a cool guy: much of his fascinatingly eclectic back catalog is available as free downloads at the Free Music Archive. A punk/metal kid back in the 80s, he taught himself accordion in retaliation against the onslaught of grunge. This might be his best album: nice to see, for someone who’s been making music since the 90s and remains one of the most underrated songwriters in rock, or whatever you call what he does. The album is due out in a couple of days from Cuneiform; he and the band play a hometown album release show on Oct 4 at the Empire Black Box Theatre in Providence.