The Scene Is Now

Magpie Alarm

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Despite the rather sparse output of New York staples the Scene Is Now, the band has remained a continuous project for its two primary members, Chris Nelson and Philip Dray (whose day jobs, respectively, were historian and best-selling author of books on race, science, and labor). By the time of 2011's Magpie Alarm, the band's fifth release, the duo had refined their post-punk eclecticism into satisfyingly consistent Baroque folk-rock without losing their oddball charm. Nelson's subtly melodramatic croak of a voice has grown even more soulful and controlled with age on touching songs like "Norway Pine" and "The Cold." Bouncing horns by cornetist Steve Levi and baritone saxophonist Chery Kinegan are moody, like less discordant Tom Waits arrangements. With nary a distortion pedal to be heard, Nelson and Dray's patient maturation from first wave No Wavers is astounding. Though the music occasionally feels too muted, the Lambchop-like arrangements remain gloriously freethinking throughout. On the disc-opening "Cities Are Over," the band sets itself firmly in the modern metropolis, and remains a low-key correspondent from the heart of Bohemia.

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