Munly & the Lupercalians

Petr & the Wulf

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Somewhere between a side project, a concept album, and what could yet be a multimedia production at this rate, Petr & the Wulf is by Slim Cessna's Auto Club member Jay Munly, so it's little surprise that there's a sense of haunted, pre-electrified rural America running throughout. As the title clearly indicates, though, the emphasis of the band is in a story and landscape even older and more mysterious; if the setting and music isn't trying to be Czarist Siberia (or pre-Mongol Kievan Russia for that matter), it is an engaging, theatrical presentation that balances out haunted shadows with nervous energy and a sense that this really could soundtrack something spectacular. Munly's smooth but not hyperpolished croon and banjo playing help set the pace, but if anything there's almost a feeling like he's the country cousin of someone like Voltaire -- the humor is far less overt, granted, but there's a ready-made fusion of of-the-moment approaches and the past that is the hallmark of that performer as well. The detailed, rich production avoids simply trying to sound like a 1920s recording, for example -- the rumbling drums, slow string moan, and high notes on "Petr" are captured in modern fidelity, to give one example, while there are enough organ breaks and proto-funk at points to suggest a mid-'60s Frug as much as anything else -- while the blend of Munly's voice with the occasional backing parts adds a sense of part church service and part vaudeville singalong ("Duk" is a great example of the latter impulse). It doesn't hurt either that far from everything sounds flat-out ominous -- often it's near rollicking, as the sweet arrangement of "Bird" and the midsection of "Cat" demonstrate. All this while elaborating on a much more complicated, doom-haunted riff of the original short story, building up to the appearance of the "Wulf" itself in the final song.

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