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.
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
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
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.
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!
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.