The Casket Girls Bring Their Creepily Detached Twin Peaks Atmospherics to the Mercury Lounge
Disregard anything you may have heard from the Casket Girls prior to this year. Don’t dismiss sisters Phaedra and Elsa Greene’s collaboration with Ryan Graveface as a novelty act or a couple of Southern dilettantes faking their way through phony noir and even phonier wannabe-Beyonce corporate pop crap. Go out to the Mercury this Sunday, June 12 where they’re playing at 11 PM for $10 in advance. You’ll be enveloped in eerily surreal, swirling ambience and disembodied voices singing ominously fragmentary lyrics inescapably grounded in the here and now. Their strange, enigmatic yet unselfconsciously relevant new album The Night Machines – streaming at Bandcamp– will convince you. This is the real Twin Peaks – the band, not the tv show – Julee Cruise for the teens.
The woodcut on the album cover depicts a suitjacketed wolf surrounded by hands – a pair of them uplifted in prayer, a couple others all bandaged up, another couple of prosthetic ones and one in a trap. But look closely and you’ll see that they’re all part of a noose descending toward the wolf’s head. It perfectly capsulizes what the music is about. The opening track, 24 hours (an original, not the manic-depressed Joy Division classic) sets the stage, banks of keening lo-fi synths mingling over what will quickly become an omnipresent, muted ka-chunk beat. The stream-of-consciousness lyrics channel a similarly inescapable gloom.
Track two, Tears of a Clown (they like to nick classic titles, don’t they?) packs repeated references to the prison-industrial complex into its icy, fuzzily cinematic sweep, an anthem for millions of disenfranchised Bernie Sanders supporters. Sixteen Forever (as in “only the dead stay sixteen forever”) takes on more of a hip-hop feel, as the video game synths shift through the sonic frame. Beyond a… blends the womens’ otherworldly Slavic-style close harmonies over a late 70s/early 80s drum machine shuffle.
True Believers is a proto new wave take on a familiar Richard Hell theme – and also maybe a thinly veiled slap at Ted Cruz-era religious bigotry. Walk the Water is an artfully assaultive clinic in getting a synth to sound like a screaming electric guitar: “Truth is virtually virginal,” the duo echo cynically. Nightlife sounds suspiciously like an even more cynical spoof of chillwave.
Mermaid is bittersweet, and sort of this album’s Octopus’ Garden – except that Ringo is a better singer than anybody in this band. Virginia Beach quickly turns into the bizarre missing link between Julee Cruise and the Ramones. The Week Is Coming On is an even catchier hybrid of triphoppy teens synth-pop and vintage new wave, and it’s surprisingly optimistic. “Triangulate, my love, we are the night machines,” one of the sisters’ voices wafts, affectless and pillowy-flat over twinkling nocturnal cascades on the album’s Cure-influenced concluding title cut. It raises more questions than its answers, an apt way to end this charmingly unsettling bunch of songs.