The Upshot: Chicago duo that is terrifying at times, but you won’t be able to avert your eyes/ears as the emotions mount and you succumb to the resulting, and beautiful, psychic disarray.
BY FRED MILLS
Chicago duo After-Death Plan off-handedly describe their genre as “American Gothic Nous Rock,” which is befitting of an album titled Literature additionally accompanied by a user’s guide* to its literary influences. Fair enough—although I feel compelled add that ADP is so free-ranging and broad-reaching in its musical palette that adjective-adjective-adjective-noun categorization borders on the useless (if not outright hapless). Because this has to be one the most sonically adventurous and lyrically challenging releases to grace the still-young new year, the type of record destined to be mentioned by critics when they start chronicling their best-of-2017 picks at the end of the annum.
It’s the brainchild of vocalist Lesley Ann Fogle, classically-trained and studio-schooled, and multiinstrumentalist Constantine Hondroulis, most recently heard with innovative Columbus combo Earwig (whose 2016 LP Pause for the Jets was reviewed right here at BLURT recently). Together, the pair conjure images both stark and expansive, foregrounding Fogle’s sultry purr ‘n’ coo—a cross between PJ Harvey and Sharon Van Etten, but one which can’t help to conjure analog ghosts of experimental muses of long ago—against an array of melodically riveting, rhythmically edgy, arrangements.
There’s opening track “The Master & Margarita,” for example, a brooding slice of ‘50s-ish, Nick Cave-styled pop noir, which is quickly followed by the considerably strummier, yet no less dark, Americana that is “Devil Takes A Hand.” Two songs in, and we’re already thinking murder ballad territory. Ah, but we’d be thinking wrong. Soon enough there’s the luminous “Raygun,” with its gorgeous strings and neo-gospel choir of harmony vox; a thrumming post-punk-meets-power-pop rocker called “Memory Remains” that cements the aforementioned Harvey comparison; and, skipping all the way to the end of the album, “In The Sun,” a slice of neo-operatic provocation that crescendos towards a violent, Sonic Youthian climax that’s anything but ballad-like.
Impressionistic, lyrically, and utterly elastic as a musical enterprise, Literature sounds, to these ears at least, like an exorcism. It’s terrifying at times, but you won’t be able to avert your eyes/ears as the emotions mount and you succumb to the resulting, and beautiful, psychic disarray.
*If you go to the “Songfacts” section of the group’s website, there’s a lengthy discussion by Fogle about her and Hondroulis’ inspirations, song by song. Literary giants such as Dostoevsky, Conrad, and Shelley get namechecked, as do such contextually-startling mentions as Ronald Reagan’s funeral, the joys of lo-fi recording, and Fogle’s other project, the apparently under-the-radar Mal Vu. (More on that in the future.) I mention this as a coda to my review here because there’s just something compelling about artists this open and eager to share with their audience, and also because I’ve always felt that pulling the veil back more rather than less is a positive thing. Consider me a convert, kids. Can’t wait to see you live one day.
DOWNLOAD: “Devil Takes A Hand,” “Into Grey,” “Memory Remains”