BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Although they’ll never be mistaken for the most upbeat band, suffice it to say the Handsome Family has struck a new high — or, shall we say, low — when it comes to pure melancholia. It says something about the set list when the most energetic entry — “Lizard” — qualifies for that distinction based solely on its pervasive strum. Its terse nature is not only hinted at in the title — a wilderness is generally sparse and barren after all — but also in the understated implications of the song selection itself, i.e. “Flies,” “Frogs,” “Eels,” et al.
Still, those familiar with this husband-wife duo ought not be surprised; the pair’s fascination with gothic imagery along with murder ballads, harrowing mysteries, and bleak, unfettered narratives has been a constant of their style since very early on. It’s realised here as well in each of these dozen songs, a consistent procession of solemn soliloquies and mournful laments. Nevertheless, however stark and sobering it appears, Wilderness is also striking in any number of ways — from the weeping steel guitar in “Owls” and the high strung harmonies of “Spider,” to the prominent tack piano in “Wildebeest” and the shimmer that surrounds it all round. They sound a cautionary note strongly suggesting the listener ought not be lulled into indifference by somber sentiment. Just as “Gulls” and “Eels” find moments of transcendent beauty, it’s the mark of this record that it’s both sublime and subdued.
DOWNLOAD: “Gulls,” “Spider,” “Owls”