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Moth Wranglers
Moth Wranglers
Never Mind the Context
Magnetic

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How goddamn ballsy is it to start an album off with a capella singing, then quickly shift gears into Morrissey-tinged country and western? Hold on a second there, pardner. Don't slough off the Moth Wranglers as some sort of piss-poor, Weird Al-style genre-slinging supergroup. There's a distinct rhyme to the band's sound reasoning. With significant ties to The Magnetic Fields, The Loud Family and even The Posies, the Moth Wranglers aren't a clammy joke -- they're a carefully calculated creative journey of crowning melodies and gloomy crescendos.

Led by ex-King Missile Chris Xefos and Flare member LD Beghtol, The Moth Wranglers are spatial organizers. Unlike most of the rock camps out there today, the Wranglers consciously separate one chord from another, creating a consistent downbeat that in turn spawns a depressively peaceful mood. The result is a marvelous use of silence and plodding beats, deconstructing the band's musical ideas into simple but ultimately powerful tracks.

Perhaps the most obvious display of this psychological fuckery is "Six-Page Letter", a production that allows distorted chords to slowly languish behind creeping vocal lines and stinging, high-pitched guitar notes. The Wranglers try their luck with the almighty piano on "The Last Request of Mr. Ezra J---", with an impressive outcome. Heavily anticipated chords draw inspiration from disparate sources -- everything from Ben Folds ballads to atonal Thelonious Monk experiments. As "The Last Request..." collapses into its chromatic ending, a miserable, almost hopeless aura emanates from its exposed innards. Perhaps it would be in the public interest if these folks avoided further association with mood king Stephin Merritt...

Just when you think you've got the Moth Wranglers neatly parceled into a particular genre, they steer into "Figure-Ground", which boasts beefy tuba and smarmy cornet, creating a circus-like atmosphere. Is it a party that you've been invited to, or just an impromptu celebration held atop your freshly bedded grave? The Wranglers obviously have a chilling grasp on their musical faculties, and can invoke everything from ukulele to washboard to cello with lasting success.

Precariously balanced between graceful beauty and unsettling anguish, Never Mind the Context has an unsettling ability to penetrate your mind; your Ego senses something wicked, but your Id urges you forward to enjoy the sheer beauty of the band's creativity. If you listen carefully enough, you may even pick up on a trace of almost-dead-anyway Tom Waits, lending the disc a distinctively profane brand of spiritual guidance. This is the kind of music that's playing in the background when you break up with the your first "I love you" girlfriend -- or the soundtrack to the wrist-slashing, red bathwater tomb that's the aftermath of said breakup. You think gangsta rap and horror flicks are the current dangers to the teenage population? Try a whiff of the Moth Wranglers and you'll see what musical terror is really about.

-- Andrew Magilow
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