The Thin Man

The Thin Man
Greasy Heart (2005, Contraphonic)

I was reading Time magazine the other day and an article headline ran “The Thin Man Expands Coverage For Kids.” The article was actually about the governor of Arkansas but the coincidence and accuracy of the headline is astounding. The Thin Man’s debut, HMS Mondegreen was wonderfully murky mix of dark carnival tunes and creepy sea shanties. This time around the accordion and slower tempos are set aside and what was once a ghostly skeleton crew becomes a full-fledged, fully developed project.

The galloping opener, “My City”, immediately parts the fog of previous efforts, with guitar lines rolling along, deep horns accentuating the beat, and Kenny Greenrod’s brightest sounding vocals yet. “Baby Please” is unique in that it simultaneously has a mariner pop and show review sound at the same time. “Molly O” just blows the doors off the barn outright, probably one of the best Americana stomps I’ve heard in a long time, even with the weird, tone-bending effects sticking in once or twice. “Louisiana Death Ride” is just as it sounds: a merry-go-round gone haywire, speeding beyond control. For those yearning for Thin Man’s ballads, it’s supplied as well. The accordion comes out on “Picnic” and his voice once again becomes a heavy, longing drawl. Slow-burner “The Wrong Song” adds backing vocals and horns with great effect, implying a more epic image than you’d expect from a dank tavern ballad. Tom Waits and Nick Cave fans look no further. For those who have not yet warmed up to “Murder Ballads” and the like, here’s your captivating, PG-13 introduction.

The Thin Man have widened their appeal, and while the general indie snob rule equates accessibility with a lack of artistic merit, it just simply isn’t the case here. A superior album in almost every respect.

mp3: My City

-Mark Hughson 11/22/05

The Thin Man
H.M.S. Mondegreen (2004, Skin and Bone)

Every once in a while, an album comes along that permeates such a distinct atmosphere, saturated in and of its own world, that it almost seems to live a life of its own. It is at that point that I marvel at what sounds can create.

The Thin Man is cool like that. With ample amounts of ominous accordion and organ, along with equally mood engulfing lap steel guitar, cello, and banjo, the band play mellow, creepy ballads of loneliness and what might at first seem like sea shanties, but really it’s just the motion sickness you get listening to the swervy, lovelorn tales of a graying drifter. There is the (albeit overshadowed) regular guitar, upright bass, and percussion there too; fleshing in the compositions, but what glues the whole group together is the voice of singer/accordionist/guitarist Kenny Greenwood. His foggy baritone reminds me of the charming-but-morose Stephin Merritt, but the eeriness that surrounds his songs point more towards Tom Waits and Nick Cave.

The campfire dirge ‘Til The Good Lord Shows His Face’ and the abandoned carnival-sounding ‘The Ballad Of A + M’ are captivating, while the…um…spooky merry-go-round ditty ‘For Us’ is haunting as hell. “Don’t answer if he knocks, he’s got a bag of dirty tricks for us…” isn’t exactly the feel good hit of the late summer. ‘Ok Fine’ surprisingly takes a turn into acoustic-led, salsa-esque territory, while still maintaining a touch of gloom. It’s the vocals I tell you!

HMS Mondegreen continues to tread wearily along in this fashion, and while you’ve still got a few more gems here and there, it’s a pretty plodding exercise (except for the thankfully upbeat and fresh ‘Yes, But How Much?’). And yet, here I go giving a thumb up to this album. I find it hard to believe that there’s a market out there for a disc full of 4-5 minute disturbing accordion ballads, so in that respect, it’s target audience is probably really limited. However, there’s something about the project that is intriguing, enough so that fans of Andrew Bird, Bonnie Prince Billy, or even Neutral Milk Hotel (along with the aforementioned artists) might seek this out and fill in another corner of their cabaret/country waltzes-of-doom music collection.

-Mark Hughson 7/3/05

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