"There's a sweetness in the worst things," sings the narrator of "Letting Go" after finding the body of his cousin, a suicide, in his uncle's barn. It could just as easily serve as the major theme of this challenging, adventurous second release from the San Francisco-based band. Lyricist John Vanderslice steps forward as a rock poet laureate of the desperate. Each song utilizes concrete, descriptive details, such as those found only in the best short stories, poems, or movies, to create a brooding atmosphere of dread, terror, and madness, while also functioning as reports from the edge of psychic and societal boundaries. Some of the characters dwell there permanently, victims of mental instability ("Catastrophe Practice," "High-Watt Glow"). Some have long settled for diminished lives ("Serbian Folk Song"). Some are thrust to the edge by unexpected confrontations with sudden violence ("Billy Dale Hunt," "Letting Go"). Others live vicariously through reading and watching accounts of sordid adventures on the fringes, ultimately finding meaning and redemption in their chosen pastimes ("True Crime"). What prevents the album from becoming a joyless, claustrophobic ride through the gutter is the surprising humor and compassion brought to the table by Vanderslice, and the fantastic music, compliments of the band. Tasty Beatlesque hooks melded with progressive rock song structures (think the music of King Crimson or Yes condensed into three-minute songs) and art rock noise flourishes (à la Mission of Burma and Pavement) combine to grow a rare and strange flower -- a nervy, intelligent work of art which uplifts while wrenching the listener's gut as it guides them on a wonderstruck tour through the darkness.
AllMusic Review by Joe Pettit, Jr.