Sighs Trapped By Liars
The Red Krayola with Art & Language
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For 40 years prior to this CD, Red Krayola could be relied upon to offer records that were determinedly different from anything going on in the mainstream, and from most of what was going on in the underground. Being so consistently iconoclastic has its own dangers, and by the time this album came out, even hardcore Red Krayola faithful could be forgiven for expecting another record of yelping Mayo Thompson vocals, whimsical stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and rhythmic but somewhat amelodic music. Even Red Krayola faithful, however, will likely be very surprised — and delightedly so — by how refreshingly different this entry in their canon is. The most obvious change is immediate: Thompson doesn't sing at all on the record, the lead vocal chores handled exclusively by Elisa Randazzo and Sandy Yang. He still has a large role as composer of the music and pianist, and the lyrics are still odd by rock and pop standards, though here they're devised by the conceptual artist group Art & Language. Red Krayola had collaborated with Art & Language in the past, but the music here is much different, and more accessible, than most of what Thompson had previously produced. With Randazzo and Yang's sultry vocals leading the path, it's downright tuneful, albeit in a whimsical, almost quizzical fashion. Sometimes it even treads close to chanteuse or lounge/Brazilian pop territory, though in a good way. The lyrics are just as ambitious and enigmatic as ever, often revolving around mirrors and quests by those gazing into them to redefine or transcend their identities. At other times they take inspiration from literary sources as varied as books about François Rabelais and, in the case of the title cut, "low grade sadomasochistic pornography." There are few other groups, or albums, with songs about frightened cats, exploding cars, and the properties of mirrors, and the discursive, unfiltered quality of some of the lyrics might put off some listeners. On the whole, however, it avoids pretension, the songs harboring an artistic and sometimes surreal edge with an intelligence and sensitivity rare in popular music, in the indie underground or otherwise. Jim O'Rourke is the most renowned of the musicians helping Thompson out on this album, but the arrangements as a whole are admirably sympathetic and understated, amounting to an album that's as enjoyable as it is cerebral.
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