Sin Ropas, the husband-and-wife team of Tim Hurley and Danni Iosello, really hit their stride with Trickboxes on the Pony Line, and the results are incandescent. Dialing back the subtler elements of their debut, Three Cherries, Hurley turns instead to sinister layers of electric guitar and coats them in a sticky glaze of processed effects, Iosello alternately dusting them with brush strokes or hammering them into shape anvil-style. The music is primal and unrelenting, a steady molten flow of textures that sounds like house music for an infernal steel foundry. Sin Ropas recorded a good portion of Trickboxes in the wintry climes of Rostock, a former East German port city once renowned for its shipyards. But since German reunification in 1989, the city has suffered through general decline, and there's palpable melancholia coursing through Trickboxes that you might associate with barren Baltic shorelines, grey skies, and industrial decay. But Hurley and Iosello harness all these evocative sonic textures so viscerally that the music also feels warm and cocoon-ish, like shelter from some cataclysmic inevitability. Sin Ropas are the house band in a fire-lit pub at the end of the world, with an ill wind howling through the wastelands outside and bleeding into the audio mix. It's exhilarating and discomfiting, but that's Sin Ropas' stock-in-trade and few do it better.
Like their fellow Red Red Meat alumni Califone, simple folk and blues traditions lurk at the core of Sin Ropas' musical alchemy, footholds that allow listeners to maintain the illusion of being tethered to something familiar. But Sin Ropas aim to shake you (and themselves) from familiar comfort zones, and they succeed by making music that feels like the inevitable next step. Trickboxes' eight songs snake past in an opiate-dream pace that belies the urgency beating at the heart of each, and snatches of Hurley's impressionistic lyrics sift into your consciousness like half-seen images in flickering candlelight. Disc-opener "Hands Inside" could easily be followed by "your brain" to capture how the music rearranges your synapses, the song's shuffling intro morphing into a maelstrom of phase-shifter air-raid warnings and ingot-forging percussion. "Butter on Cane" follows seamlessly but cranks the tension even tauter. Iosello's brushed snare is so up-front in the mix it sounds like it's clattering around in your skull, while Hurley's waves of feedback, gargantuan chords, and E-Bow sirens march you relentlessly toward a crescendo that blurs the line between joyful abandon and psychotic break. Acoustic guitar provides a change in texture for "Syrup Coat," while banjo does the same for disc-ender "Mays Bitter." Throughout, Trickboxes alters the pace and guitar noise-to-percussion ratios just enough that the subtle contrasts wind up sounding quite distinctive. Sin Ropas are so adept at creating internal tension and release that when the songs break it's never less than emotionally cathartic. Hurley's lyrics and wizened moan may often be incomprehensible, but you're compelled to howl or bay along just knowing that music this anguished can also feel so damn good. A soundtrack for the end of the world perhaps, but what a way to go.