The Handsome Family; Last Days of Wonder (EMI) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2006

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The Handsome Family: Flapping Your Broken Wings
The Handsome Family; Last Days of Wonder (EMI) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2006

At first I didn't fully get this one from a duo I've long admired for their slightly wonky take on traditional country which sounds like it was made by post-graduates who got lost in the Appalachians after a seminar on contemporary poetics.

But repeat plays and scouring the lyrics reveals what the title (taken from a line in a song) states overtly: this is concerned with golden moments in life, and they aren't always sunsets over the ocean.

With a surrealist's sensibilities songwriter Rennie Sparks identifies that birds singing from on top of a billboard can be a sublime moment, and love allows us to hear "mystery singing from everything: the strip mall, the highway, the boarded-up skating rink". Hunter Green here is a richly metaphoric death ballad, These Golden Jewels -- with musical saw -- could be a more tuneful take on a Tom Waits clank'n'grind song, and the lovely, melodic Tesla's Hotel Room is a farewell to the eccentric inventor.

Elements of emotional dislocation, unusual events, and life as a mysterious journey make for an album that is hypnotic, subtle and -- although grounded in these difficult times -- contains the historical human optimism and struggle to understand the inexplicable that brought us here.

Not to be missed.

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