Eric Bachmann, former front man of seminal indie-gods Archers of Loaf, rests beautifully on his talent for creating alarmingly depressing melodies and lyrics in Red Devil Dawn, the third release from his poignant band Crooked Fingers.
Unlike the constant downcast mood of Crooked Fingers' Reservoir Songs, a previous release of cover songs on Merge, Bachmann has successfully integrated violins, a cello, and the obscure, high-pitched mandolin to create eerily, uplifting melodies in "Big Darkness" and "Angelina." Even though the songs are, respectively, about a place where forgotten people are born into a dreamless life and about a woman that is thrown away by every lover, the music takes on an upbeat rhythm. This lack of correspondence between the music and lyrics could be interpreted as hope for a new beginning even when life seems to continue in a never-ending downward spiral.
These faster paced songs are intermixed with Bachman's classic soft-sung lamentations in "Bad Man Coming" and "Boy with (100) Hands." In these songs, Bachmann explores the lack of power we have over life. Shit happens, but for Bachmann it not only happens, it fills every part of one's existence, until fading into nothing seems like a joyous alternative.
Bachmann, though, can make you smile with his slightly offbeat wit and humor, as he does in "Sweet Marie." "Sweet Marie," beginning with a sudden belting of trumpets bold enough to startle you from your groveling self-pity, serves as a quick breather from the dramatic realizations over life and love. He contently sings: "I know you would never cheat with anyone but me, its so easy now for you 'cause you don't have to choose," happily obliged to play the role of the forbidden lover as long as he's the only "other man."
Bachmann's love of down-and-out lyrics is obvious throughout Red Devil Dawn. Yet, Bachmann has filled out his quirky sense of individuality enough to avoid a poor-me squeak that could have blended the borders between songs. Redemption, an underlying theme continuing from previous albums, comes from bowing your head and bracing for the blunt of life.
The album comes softly to its end with gentle guitar strumming paired alongside Bachmann's deep, penetrating voice that vibrates through his words. If you had a week characterized by death, an unfaithful spouse, and an overwhelming sense of uselessness, it is an ending that would allow you to lie down, close your eyes, and drift into a peaceful, gratifying slumber.
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