The Handsome Family

Wilderness

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Wilderness, the tenth long-player from the New Mexico-based husband-and-wife team of Brett and Rennie Sparks (the Handsome Family) lives up to its ecological moniker with a 12-track set that invokes both nature and nurture, with an emphasis on the shady bits in between. Once again, Brett handles the melody side of things while Rennie conjures up the stories, and oh what diabolical tales they are. Each song is named for a beast, bird, amphibian, reptile, or insect, and like a Kafka short story or a Michael Sowa painting, they occupy that strange, ill-defined moment between a particularly vivid dream and the cruel bleat of the alarm clock. Standout cuts like the galloping, Beatlesque "Octopus," the funereal "Glow Worm," and the remarkably affecting "Wildebeest," the latter of which compares the death of Stephen Foster, the oft-cited father of American music, who bashed his head against a water basin in a fit of fever and later died from infection, to a crocodile-savaged "wildebeest gone crazy with thirst pulled down as he tried to drink," feel less like the warm, composed, bedroom country-folk hymns that they are and more like the vision quest-induced fever dreams of a modern day Carlos Castaneda chasing a particularly elusive spirit animal.

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