It’s hard to imagine a more apt album for Halloween month, 2022 than supertrio Night Crickets‘ debut release, A Free Society, streaming at Soundcloud. The band – iconic noir songwriter and Bauhaus bassist David J, Violent Femmes co-founder and drummer Victor DeLorenzo and multi-instrumentalist Darwin Meiners – take their name from a David Lynch request for a sample of crickets at night rather than during the day. There’s a big difference!
To what degree does the album title reflect that anguish and desperate hopes of the post-March 2020 era? A handful of the songs are imbued with David J’s laser, Gogolian focus on grim imagery; others are more psychedelic, often with spare dub touches. His incisive, purposeful bass riffs are as masterful as always. Although the trio made the album over the web, the mix is seamless.
The opening number is a characteristically stylish, tense urban tableau set to a terse, minimalist trip-hop vamp:
Black leather on the inside and New York around the corner
And the devil is on your doorstep
‘Cause he knows you’re staying in
Although part of you is always out
Your life is wearing thin
Candlestick Park is a Meiners tune, a catchy, slowly swaying, vividly detailed late 80s reminiscence told from the point of view of a former vendor at the windswept San Francisco Bay stadium. They follow with Amanda’s Mantra, a brief, catchy, synthy new wave bounce.
“Imagine a free society where the horses can run free and wild, ad hoc, without variance or concern,” David J intones over a steady, trippy, Jah Wobble-esque dubwise groove in the album’s title track, “Where the boss and pagans can be at peace in the house of apes.”
Meiners takes over on the mic with more spoken word in Roman À Clef, another hypnotic vamp that brings to mind Flash & the Pan. Lingering Lynchian guitar and ghostly string synth mingle over a catchy bass loop in Soul Wave. Then DeLorenzo builds a colorful lowrider soul groove in Little Did I.
“There’s nowhere to hide, there’s nowhere to hide you,” is the mantra in Sloe Song, an uneasily atmospheric tableau. David J intones a cynical parable about mockingbird media over DeLorenzo’s ominously regal drumwork and Meiners’ oscillating tanpura in The Unreliable Narrator.
The band bring back the Indian dub influence in Down Below and follow with Return to the Garden of Allah, the closest thing to David J’s ominous, allusive rainy day bedroom-goth sound from the 80s.
With its gothic organ stroll, Sacred Monster is the album’s darkest track: it comes across as a more organic take on Flash & the Pan. The band give a shout-out to the filmmaker whose quip they nicked for their bandname in the final cut, I Want My Night Crickets!, a surreal, energetically dub-inflected pastiche. Let’s hope these three smart, theatrically-inspired veterans give us a follow-up to this offhandedly sharp, smart collaboration.