Voices in a Rented Room, the first album from New Bums, the collaborative duo of Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda, Comets on Fire) and Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards), is a dark, subdued, and occasionally funny affair somewhere between ramshackle loner folk and carefully crafted sonic portraits. The album's incredibly spare 12 songs are made up primarily of dual vocals and guitars from both singers, occasionally peppered with muted percussion or the odd string arrangement, as with the gloriously sad Big Star-recalling "Sometimes You Crash." The opening strains of "Black Bough" come off like the same syrupy-slow depressive folk narratives of Smog or off-kilter lyrical brilliance of the Silver Jews, and songs like this one and the sad-eyed Appalachian lurch of "Burned" certainly do sway more in the stylistic direction of those artists. Taking the record in more deeply, however, there's something more ominous to Chasny and Quinn's croaky unison vocals and weird updates of American folk-blues. A song like "The Killers and Me," with its ghostly piano and stripped-down dusty saloon vibe, feels more like a cowboy version of Royal Trux's swaggering approach, and the lilting folksy psychedelia of Quinn's Skygreen Leopards shows up on tracks like "Your Girlfriend Might Be a Cop" and the lo-fi ballad "Mother's Favorite Hated Son." Likewise, Chasny's guitar wizardry sneaks into the overall spare album on tracks like "Town on the Water." New Bums finds two decidedly specific songwriters' styles and voices mesh into something new and different. The combination results in a strange, haunted look into imagined desert scenes, cheap motels, and tales of depraved living, floating by on tunes so unassuming they disappear before the darkness ever truly sets in.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas