The Handsome Family: Unseen

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Based on a series of complex algorithms, this is the second best album* we have received to review in the <mumble mumble> years we’ve been doing this reviewing game.

That doesn’t mean it’s got the best tunes or the best singing or the wildest guitar solos: it’s a combination of meticulous song-writing, musicianship, production and above all the care, love and intelligence that’s gone into it. On all counts this album is superb.

Not convinced? Any album whose opening lyrics are “Got a tattoo of a snake and a ski mask on my face / But I woke up in a ditch behind the Stop ’n Go / Lying in the weeds with a bullet in my gut / Watching dollar bills fly away in the dust” has to be good.

Elsewhere, the album poetically tackles gambling (“There is no day or night in the forest of slot machines”); nostalgia (“We had maps that unfolded back in my day / You could drink from the river”) and the Other Side — “Gentlemen, I now can prove / The unseen world is close, it pushes through”. Lyrics sorted: vivid stories presented in as few as words as possible and poetic to boot.

Musically, it’s slow, if not maudlin folk country, with fiddles and banjos aplenty and a general sense of unsettling decay: it’s a bit like a scene from Dracula, perhaps where they’re waiting in a churchyard to imprison a vampire in a tomb using only garlic paste and a tooth pick. While in some ways it’s old fashioned, the lyrics make it clear they’re as sharp as nails and the music is so knowingly retro it’s modern. Parts are simply beautiful.

Fans of the first (the good one) True Detective series know their music — their tune Far From Any Road was the theme.

You’ve got to like a country sound, but this is a musical feast to savour.

(* No1: Robert Vincent Life In Easy Steps. Best album ever.)

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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