On his fourth full-length album, Stoo Odom of the Graves Brothers Deluxe returns to the late-night, jazz-tinged, baroquely sexual weirdness of his excellent Gonna Happen to You
, after a brief flirtation with more conventional (at least by his standards) rock on Filter Feeders
. The resulting Light
stands as one of his strongest outings yet: it is creepily compelling, both lyrically and musically, darky humorous, and at once precise and ramshackle.
Odom is joined again by Willy the Mailman and Marcos Villalobos (who, among other things, were Noel Redding's backing band until his death a couple of years ago), with cameo appearances from ex-band member and sometime Resident Nolan Cook on guitar. Willy mostly plays guitar on Light, but gets to pick up his saxophone again for the instrumental "Drinking at the Sea Star", and again on the closing "The Flame of the Final Inferno Is a Jive Ass Hot Plate". Here, he duels with Stoo, who plays some sort of kazoo-like wind instrument, in a track that is at once free jazz experimental and sublimely silly. There are a few other instruments -- trumpet and trombone on "About the Future", various organs on "Drinking at the Sea Star" and "Nerves", and the mysteriously named "Flippytronics", credited to Odom, on half the tracks -- but the sound is, overall, stark.
Light opens with the chugging menace of "About the Future", in which Odom gets off lines like "I live in sin with my thoughts / but we'll get married soon / we fight and fornicate all night / then sleep til the afternoon" without cracking a grin. Horn flourishes slip through the crevices and vertiginous guitar dives add an apocalyptic commentary, but the song centers on rhythm, skewed poetry and groove. It and "I Hear Light Coming Down", which comes next, are Light's most overtly "rock" songs.
With "Legs Rub Together", the band embarks on an ominous, experimental run of songs, tackling sex, love and the fear of death. "Legs" is full of subliminally coiled tension: Odom reduced to a whisper, drums held to the merest hint muffled cymbal chinks, luminous guitar breaks shimmering and disappearing into the mix. The words are surreal and imbued with lust, as in the heavy-breathing "There's times when I smell doom / I crave bug spray perfume on you / yeah you / There's times when I smell death / I need hot, unwashed breath on you." Also in this vein, but even better, is "White Devil's Death Song", a Waits-ian calvacade of jury-rigged rhythms hitched to obscure and evocative found poetry. "Big Chain Store" has a slow-moving unease, long, distorted guitar notes weaving in and out of the steady pulse of beat. The wonderful "Drinking at the Sea Star" has no words at all -- just loose-limbed jazz bass and cymbals, punctuated by 3:00 a.m. flickers of lounge guitar and moaning saxophone.
Near the end, Light slips in an abrasive but loving cover of Diana Ross's "You Keep Me Hangin' On", with Willy on disco guitar and Villalobos slapping the hi-hat. Odom sounds like a desperate man, his voice fraying and cracking under the agony of unrequited love... or perhaps he's laughing his ass off at the ridiculousness of it all. It's hard to tell -- maybe a little of both. Either way, it's par for a band that's always dead serious, even when it's kidding.