A Dark, Richly Resonant Live Album from Phil Shoenfelt & Pavel Cingl

by delarue

Czech rockers Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross have earned a cult following across Europe for their brooding, artsy gothic rock. The core of the band, frontman/guitarist Shoenfelt and multi-instrumentalist Pavel Cingl are coming to New York for a tour of some of the dives here, They’ll be at Pete’s Candy Store on May 24 at 9 – with their similarly dark tourmates Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons opening at 8 – then at Zirzamin at 7 on May 26, plus an 11 PM gig that same night at Otto’s. Fortuitously, Shoenfelt and Cingl also have an unexpectedly lush duo album out, Live at the House of Sin, which has an anthemic sound far more rich than you would expect from just two performers. It may be a cliche to say that if a song sounds good stripped down in an acoustic format, it’ll sound even better with a band, but it’s true. So if this album is any indication, New York dark rock fans are in for a treat next weekend.

The opening track, Vivi the Flea unfolds in a down-and-out New York milieu evocative of Mark Steiner at his gloomiest, Cingl’s soaring violin contrasting with the lingering resonance of Shoenfelt’s guitar. The second track, Twisted, has Cingl playing through a wah effect to raise the psychedelic factor. The Irish-flavored Saviour’s Day reminds a lot of Nick Cave – the irony of the title is not lost in a doomed gothic context.

Cingl switches to eerily reverberating electric mandolin, Shoenfelt fingerpicking his twelve-string on Black Rain for a majestic, sweeping ambience. Shivers Inside brings to mind Mark Sinnis at his most darkly seductive, while The Gambler works a menacing two-chord vamp, Cingl’s violin taking the intensity to redline. Alchemy sounds like a Lee Hazelwood theme taken forty years forward in time to Transylvania; Martha’s Well mines a bitter, abandoned theme.

The aphoristic Darkest Hour brings Sinnis to mind again, but in full-blown angst mode. Angel Street has some neat guitar/violin tradeoffs; Shoenfelt’s sepulchral croon rises to a casual menace on Black Venus, a traditional tune with new lyrics and a deliciously ringing mandolin solo. With its echoey violin, Hospital has Cingl looking over his shoulder at the Smiths’ How Soon Is Now. The album winds up with Letter From Berlin, which manages to be both elegaic and sympathetic: at the end of the song, the narrator offers to walk the suicidal girl home. Fans of Shane MacGowan, Leonard Cohen and the other troubadours of doom will eat this up.