State Of Grace

Overlooked Ohio five-piece deliver ravaged second album

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A genuine treasure, Sad Songs… is one of those records that seem to drop out of the sky into your lap to become an instant obsession. It begins with “Cardinal”?autumnal chords and a hazy, strung-out ambience (like Lambchop’s Nixon espousing a drifting, eternal grief instead of domestic bliss); a nicotine-burnished voice dispensing harsh advice with epic resignation: “Never look her in the eyes/Never tell the truth/If she knows you’re paper/You know she’ll have to burn you/Never tell the one you want that you do/Save it for the deathbed/When you know you kept her wanting you. “It’s going to be a long, dark night of embattled, bittersweet soul. “Slipping Husband” musters the self-lacerating machismo of Afghan Whigs’ “Gentlemen” (“You could have been a legend/But you became a father”); the unbearably aching “90-Mile Water Trail” finds a violent lover captivated by the “target of these hands”: “How could your hair have the nerve to dance around like that, blowin’?/How could the air have the nerve to blow your hair around like that?” No one has written the uneasy poetry of self-disgust with such brutality since Mark Eitzel at his best. Singer Matt Berninger must either have some imagination or one hell of a bruised heart.

The musicianship lifts Sad Songs… even further into the realm of the extraordinary. Brothers Aaron (who also plays bass) and Bryce Dessner are as capable of Sonic Youth discord as subtle, perfectly judged shading and Padma Newsome (whose superior avant-classical/post-rock group Clogs released a criminally overlooked record this year) contributes some wild, real gone violin.

Livid as a bruise, this is brave, desperate and desperately beautiful music.

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