Red Devil Dawn/Crooked Fingers

Red Devil Dawn
Crooked Fingers
Merge Records

Neil Diamond may be super hip in the world of sorority-girl ironic hipdom, but he still doesn’t cut it where true rock fans are concerned. That’s where Eric Bachmann steps in. The former Archer of Loaf drops his third solo full-length with a delivery that could be mistaken for the Big D himself. That’s where the similarities end, however, as Brachmann dips into the world of murky minor-key melodies and snappy bursts of brass that embrace a twilight world between singer/songwriter tunes and Goth-rock

This is one selection from Aversion’s 2003 Favorites. To view all the albums (we’ll drop five new blurbs daily through Jan. 2)

Look long enough in any public place, be it a restaurant, bus station, shopping center or park grid-locked in a sea of roadways, and you’re certain enough to run across one of the truly lonely. They’re easy to recognize: Unlike their compatriots, the desperately lonely, who seek an end to their solitude, the true lonesome one has accepted their solitude in muted silence. Unlike the hordes of hipster emos, his seclusion isn’t a matter of personal choice, artistic fabrication or adolescent woe-is-me antics.

Among the songs on Crooked Fingers’ Red Devil Dawn may be the anthem for the hopelessly isolated – just which one that anthem would be is still kind of hard to tell. With the muted acoustic guitars, single-candle shadows and bare-walls simplicity that made the Fingers’ previous albums a staple of drizzly, lonely nights, the act’s latest once again slips some whiskey into the evening’s tea for the fuzzy bite of yet another suffocatingly isolated record. The act’s downtrodden sound has never been as focused as on Red Devil Dawn. Achingly poignant from beginning to end, giving this album a spin is a glimpse into the eyes of the type of lost soul who usually avoids eye contact. It’s choking. It’s hard to forget.

With a style that splits the difference between post-Goth singer/songwriters such as Michael J. Sheehy and crushed-heart post-alternative rockers in the realm of Smog and Damien Jurado, Crooked Fingers’ most deadly weapon is its knack for understatement. Whether it’s through a simple picked-note guitar figure that puts the emphasis on singer/guitarist Eric Bachmann’s meandering vocal track (“Bad Man”) or lets the spacey sounds of an electrochime hold together loose acoustic work (“Angelina”), understatement drives home Crooked Fingers’ blue-on-black songwriting. Only further accentuating the act’s desperate deadpan is Bachmann’s lyrics, which he sings in a voice that would sound like Neil Diamond if Diamond was bearable and had a habit of mixing alcohol and painkillers: “Sweet Marie” tells the tale of a brokenhearted lover plotting to scare away his ex’s latest flame and “Big Darkness” gleefully prophesizes a day when the sun ceases to cast its glow on an otherwise cheerless world.

Loneliness, isolation and the vicious desperation that can tag on their heels can’t be swept up as neatly and tidily as a legion of emos will tell you. They’re dirty and lasting, and, as Crooked Fingers shows, hold the potential for some beautiful music.

– Matt Schild

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