Jail Weddings’ Upcoming Album with the Impossibly Long Title Is Amazing
Jail Weddings do creepy noir bolero rock better than just about anybody. They also do it a lot differently, and more energetically, rising to a towering, Spectoresque splendor. As noir music goes, their new album Meltdown: A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion is luridly delicious. Frontman/guitarist Gabriel Hart has one of those shambling, stumbling Pete Doherty/Shane MacGowan deliveries, and also looks straight back to Nick Cave in places. But his songs draw on a vast range of influences from paisley underground psychedelia to the Balkans to circus rock. The album follows the trail of a relationship that’s doomed from the start: he’s obsessive and she’s increasingly disgusted by it, a dynamic that both Hart and frontwoman Jada Wagensomer work for as much black humor as raw angst.
The opening track, There Is a Distance sets the stage – it’s the most Cave-ish of the tracks. “It’s not the radiation that makes our hair fall out/It’s the deeper question we just won’t talk about,” Hart laments. May Today Be Merciful sounds like Steve Wynn, or Cave covering the Byrds, right down to the twelve-string guitar. The blend of voices between Wagensomer, Marianne Stewart and Kristina Benson is lush and otherworldly, with tinges of Bulgarian melody. Angel of Sleep is the first of the majestic bolero rockers, rising from a cynical girlie vocal choir to a series of mammoth crescendos with Hannah Blumenfeld’s strings and Marty Sataman’s organ going full blast with the guitars.
Why Is It So Hard to Be Good kicks off with a somber piano riff over Michael Shelbourn’s Atrocity Exhibition ish drums and then goes swinging, a tense mariachi rock tune, like Cave (yeah, him again) doing a late 60s Grass Roots hit. Summer Fades is one of the strongest tracks, a wickedly catchy, brooding folk-rock nuumber with a Watching the Detectives guitar break and a death obsession:
Who’ll be the first to admit
How cold we all look wearing shades?
Was every hole we dug in the sand
A secret demand for a shallow grave…
The gutter empties into the ocean
Wagensomer sings the bluesy noir anthem A Promise, rising to a breathtaking wail through a series of dramatic modulations fueled by Morgan Hart Delaney’s soaring bass and Sataman’s creepy piano. A wickedly cool Bulgarian vocal arrangement opens It’s Not Fair, which works its way from ba-bump cabaret to a phantasmagorically epic anthem. Do You Ever Get Tired of Keeping the Faith takes a a paisley underground anthem and enhances it with gothic art-rock piano and Celtic strings. “Can you see me on the tower with my artillery?Picking off those phony rebels, to infinity?” Hart demands.
You Are Never Going to Find Me is the girl’s response to the guy’s over-the-top ridiculousness, set to a lively, lushly arranged Irish ballad tune. Lyrically speaking, the creepiest and most cringe-inducing song here is Father’s Eyes, a lavish Nashville gothic-tinged account of a guy who hooks up with a girl who’s been raped by her father – and likes to relive the experience. It seems like a diversion from the plotline but it might not be.
The story comes into close focus with Obsession, which opens with a gospel sway and rises to another ba-bump, Spectoresque crescendo, twinkling electric piano mingling with spacy reverb guitar washes and austere violin. Party Girl works the same beat to a big, beefed-up bolero and lots of drama. The sarcastic Dead Celebrity Party goofs on trendoid namedropping over Sweet Jane riffage. Ending the album on predictably downcast note, Don’t Invite Me to Your Party brings to mind Spottiswoode at his most ornate, opening with somber solo piano and vocals, building to a Fairytale of New York-style duet between Hart and Wagensomer: “Just like the stars, we never come down til we burn out,” the two intone with a dead-cold glee. There are so many cool instrumental touches here that it would take pages to list them all: this is an album that takes days to get to know, and the better you know it, the better it sounds. It’s one of the best of 2013.