Chris Connelly

Decibels from Heart

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Decibels from Heart reveals the one constant in Chris Connelly's career as a solo artist and vocalist in bands from Fini Tribe, Ministry, and Revolting Cocks to Pigface and High Confessions: change. This set is as different from the experimentalism of 2013's Day of Knowledge than that was from the hard rock aesthetics of 2011's Artificial Madness. Skillfully produced by Matt Walker, this set features a backing band of veteran Chicago players who illustrate an adventurous, wide-angle rock landscape colored by Brit-pop, futurist Celtic soul and folk, and post-glam pop. The female voice is an equally important part of Connelly's vision. Six very different duet partners appear on as many tracks: Claire Massey (also on backing vocals throughout), Meshell Ndegeocello, Rebecca Pidgeon, Roxy Swain, Ruby (Lesley Rankine), and My Brightest Diamond. They contribute not only textural contrast to Connelly's warbling yet mellifluous tenor, but aesthetic dimension, and provide a deliberate otherness that balances his poetic lyrics, turning them back on themselves inside-out in the melodies. "Mistreated & Wild" is hooky, post-glam pop shot through with traces of bright Baroque soul as swooping guitars, sweeping keyboards, dynamic strings, and spiraling ambient sonics propel the singer's voices. On the reggae-tinged "Gravity" (complete with dubwise bassline) Massey's backing vocal adds space to the deep, rhythmic architecture. Pidgeon is showcased on the appropriately titled, dark funhouse waltz that is "Let's Be Actors" (she is a stage actress as well as a fine singer/songwriter). It's illustrated with a spooky organ, acoustic and electric guitars, restrained drums, horns, and a backing chorus that adds spectral doo wop to verse tags. The title track is thrumming, big-beat Anglo-Celtic rock with wrangling electric guitars, phase shifted drums, a cascading vocal chorus, melody, and lyrics that offer a tribute to the late, great Jackie Leven. Ruby (also from Pigface) aids on the cinematic space pop of "At Least When I'm Gone." Despite the title, it's among the most romantic cuts here. "Two Swing from the Air" is elegant, airy, and almost shimmering with industrial texture woven into the backdrop. Connelly's falsetto here is just gorgeous. "Workin Time" is an elliptical, lilting, future soul ballad with Meshell Ndegeocello. Their honeyed voices croon and coo without over-emoting. Swain appears on "To Swing from the Air." She and Connelly trade passionate, tender lines of unburdened desire atop loops, piano, strings, and angular electric guitars. Closer "2gloryB" with My Brightest Diamond (Shara Worden) is the set's longest track. It commences as an abstracted electronic tone poem, shapeshifts into an expansive, swooning ballad, then erupts into crunchy, hard, riff-laden rock before turning itself inside-out several more times over nearly seven minutes. If this is art rock, give us more! Decibels from Heart expertly weaves Connelly's many musical and lyrical obsessions into one of the most holistic and accessible entries in his catalog. His name may not be synonymous with that of other pop iconoclasts -- David Bowie, Scott Walker, John Martyn and Marc Almond come to mind -- but it should be.

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