These Last Songs

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Someone described this Montreal sextet as "the Dirty Three with vocals" and that's not far off. But what should have been added was, "sleepy, groaning, very little energy, French-accented vocals, as if singer Gabriel Levine had just been awoken from a long winter's nap and had no intention of remaining that way." Oddly, it sort of works, like Maurice Chavalier singing serious songs with a laconic, slowly swaying background instead of his dumb novelty numbers. On the more up tunes (which are preferable) such as "Good Citizen," Levine mangles the syllables in the same way that the very young David Byrne did on those early Talking Heads records. Behind him, the band keeps it straightforward, the various parts not really blending in the mix so much as unobtrusively clashing. What sets them apart even more is the first-rate violin work of Genevieve Heistek, who flits to and fro the three picked guitars (with their string-bending, whammy parts) as if she were the one member given permission in a drill line to come and go as she pleased. Her sawing lines are often smart, interesting monotones, but sometimes she makes that fiddle pop and squeak in a way a classical musician wouldn't consider. And other times she just makes the band sound friendlier and prettier than their production would have suggested. Hmm!

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