Orson/Gomez/The Handsome Family 2006 David Bennun
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Orson/
Gomez/
The Handsome Family

[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]




A BAND SPECIALISING in brash, knowing songs, which detail the mundane yet sharp emotions of young men spinning dizzily through nightlife scenes, appears seemingly out of nowhere and fetches up at the top of the charts. If it works once in the music industry, try it again. And again. Until it doesn't.
 It would be facile to dismiss Orson as no more than LA's Arctic Monkeys. For one thing, the music on Bright Idea (Mercury **) is slicker, less urgent and more varied, with the ska overtones beloved of punky west coasters. But the similarities are hard to avoid. Particularly the way that the canny lyrics (here by Jason Pebworth) seem so far in advance of everything else on offer that you wonder if the rest of the act will ever catch them up.
 As Orson head this way, they may pass onetime Mercury prizewinners Gomez going in the other direction. Gomez have signed Stateside to the label run by serial AOR bore Dave Matthews. They should fit in nicely there, on the basis of How We Operate (Independiente *) - echoing as it does the polite, grainy, stifled tones of such post-Grateful Dead US festival circuit favourites as Counting Crows, Blues Traveller or Hootie and his soporific Blowfish. Bye-bye Americana, hello middle America.
 alt.country often takes a somewhat scholarly approach to bluegrass, one which overlooks the more macabre aspects of that tradition. But not Albuquerque-based duo The Handsome Family (Rennie Sparks provides the words for husband Brett's music.) On Last Days Of Wonder (Loose ****) they have created a set of - literally - spooky songs contemplating the approach of death, with scenarios that range from folk lays and boys' own adventure yarns to the familiar, modern bleakness of strip malls and departure gates.
 While the album as a whole is never less than absorbing, certain of its tracks stand out as both morbid and magical. Rennie Sparks' background as a writer of fiction is put to poignant use on Your Great Journey, reminiscent of The Sixth Sense, in which puzzled ghosts wander their haunts unseen; and All The Time In Airports, wherein the departed appear and vanish like mirages. These are beautifully realised short stories as much as they are songs, and deserve the close attention their stillness demands.





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