A Long Overdue Look at Liv Mueller’s Haunting Solo Album

by delarue

Over a year ago, Milwaukee songstress Liv Mueller sent her album Liv Sings – Love Songs for the Forlorn and Misguided over the transom here. It was a sensible thing for her to do, considering how well-suited to this blog her music is. She’s an individualistic songwriter with a thing for haunting, minimalist guitar, which she multitracks with the reverb turned all the way up, building a creepy, majestic backdrop for her slowly unwinding anthems and a waltz or two. She’s also an individualistic and tremendously good singer, with just as much power at the low end of her range as at the top. The songs on the album bring to mind Shannon Wright or Randi Russo taking a stab at Americana – admittedly, that might be a stretch, considering that neither of those artists is remotely country, but just imagine if you can. Mueller made a name for herself in that style of music in the midwest fronting the Lovelies and then the Dark Horse Project, so it’s no surprise that she’s equally at home with both vintage C&W and country blues-tinged material.

So why did such an excellent album sit around for so long here, unheard and forgotten? Umm…..dumbass blog owner (guess who) mistook it for somebody else’s jazz record, so it ended up hidden away on the server until a year-end cleanup sparked a listen to the first song. And this is one of those albums where the first song makes you want to hear what’s next, and so on until about an hour later, you’ve heard the whole thing and want to hear what else she’s got out there (good news – in the time that’s passed since she sent this one in, she’s been working on a new one). The noir torch song One More Time, which opens the album, is addictive, Mueller’s ghostly, mysterious a-cappella first verse rising to grand guignol orchestral heights on the wings of the string synth. Long Gone is the first of the many dark guitar-driven numbers: it’s got to be the only song that references both Edgar Allan Poe and the O.J. Simpson trial.

Mueller sings over a hypnotic, allusive country-blues vamp on This Kind of Love, her angst-ridden vocals matching the looming intensity of the music. Father Angel moves further toward indie rock, with creepy gothic lyrics and surreal backward-masked guitar. Salvation is a broodingly elegaic waltz – Mueller might be singing to a ghost here. And on the sardonic, embittered Let It Roll, is she singing “hell, hell, hell” as a mantra as the song opens – or is that just vocalese? Either would work, especially as Mueller adds a scorching, dreampop-tinged lead guitar line as the chorus kicks in.

She reinvents the country classic Crazy Arms, the only cover here, as Nashville gothic, and follows that with Haunted Face, a regret-laden neo-Velvets tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Vera Beren catalog. An echoey noir bongo pulse pushes the Siouxsie-esque Beneath My Wings along, Mueller belting hard over the terse orchestration. Wish You May sets judiciously ringing tremolo guitar over a burning, distorted drone and another sardonic lyric; Mueller ends the album with a grimly amusing departure into Weimar-style cabaret. What’s coolest about this album is how she pulls together elements from styles that seem completely at odds with each other and makes everything work seamlessly along with her almost-lurid, unselfconsciously magnetic vocals.