Deathbed Recollections

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Here's what it says in the insert booklet: "Presenting the infamous, the mellifluous and harmonious, the bravura balladry of ineffable inculcations that lambently caress the soul of fair Phoebus Apollo: The music of Messrs. J.C. and Anphibius." "Messrs." is the tipoff -- yes, these guys do have their tongues in their cheeks. But that doesn't stop these dark, strangely hooky songs from sounding awfully serious. Partly it's J.C.'s cavernous Nick Cave-meets-Michael Gira voice; partly it's the self-consciously arty voice and piano settings, which have the effect of making the songs sound like a cycle and the album like a recital. The best songs are those that feature one or two more instruments; the cornet obbligato on "My Yankee Fever" makes all the difference, as do the drums and what sounds like a synthesized flute on "The Worm That Turned On." (You wouldn't guess it from some of the song titles, but J.C. does seem to be a native English speaker.) But even those songs that are not immediately engaging have a way of hooking you by the time they're about half over. "Year of Pain" is a very effective jilted-lover lament, and not only because of the nice cello line; "Birthday Miss Gifting" is a slightly jauntier take on the same theme, and it would have succeeded even without the reappearance of that buttery cornet. Anyone who likes both Schubert and the Swans will be sure to find a place on his or her shelf for this befuddling little gem of an album.