Elle Mary & The Bad Men “Constant Unfailing Night” (Sideways Saloon, 2018)

The title gives a clue to the darkness enveloping this record – it wears its black heart proudly and does its best to draw us into the crepuscular. The music is core to the vision, tight and dark, rhythm-heavy, slow and taut, the vocals not disinterested but seemingly partially disengaged. Nina Nastasia leapt into my mind as I listened and nothing on repeat listens has done anything to shake her off. The sparse crisp production calls to mind the work of Steve Albini (Nina Nastasia’s producer of choice)..

It’s the kind of record where what is absent is as important as what is there: ‘Happiness’ uses an ugly repetitive guitar, with percussion that is funereal, the vocals strident and singing of happiness as a release whilst signifying the opposite. It’s a record that dares you to find it appealing, like an outwardly aggressive appearance hiding something altogether more wholesome beneath. ‘Pretend’ (as in we’re dead) may seek to be the epitome of gothic noir, yet the almost pretty shards of guitar are like they are from a stained glass window imbuing some warmth even if it isn’t sought.

The dedication to gloom is laudable. The simple repeated guitar figures and the rumble of bass and drums are the standard mode of operation; they may be leavened or crushed, the instruments are the blackout blinds, the words the gaffer tape extinguishing any hope of light. Like stroppy Gothy teenager black is one colour too many, ‘Behave’ bursts into a vibrant dark grey, the guitars scratching towards the light like bindweed roots inching beneath weed suppressant fabric. I’m one to applaud vision even if it is wearing cataract glasses. This matt black music has its uses and its place; it takes a lot to be creative with such a limited aesthetic.

6/10

Summary

Defiantly, definitely, deep and dark

Author: David Cowling

Punk rock, Go-Betweens, REM, Replacments, Husker Du, Minutemen, Will Oldham, Smog, Whiskeytown, Ass Ponys but probably most of all Howe Gelb, led me on this journey.

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