[CD Review] The Curious Mystery, 'Rotting Slowly' (K)

The Curious Mystery?Rotting Slowly?(K)

“If I go blind/hangin’ out by a riverside,” drawls Shana Cleveland at the start of her band’s debut album, “just stay with me.” The song, “Preparations,” lurches along as slowly as could be from there, and Cleveland’s soulful, low-slung singing is an eerie presence throughout. A five-piece from Seattle, the Curious Mystery aren’t the kind of band we necessarily expect to hear on K Records. Far removed from bookish, primitive pop, this iconoclastic outfit specialize in smoky, genre-crossing jams that dip casually into dirge-prone country, hazy psych and swampy blues.

Often as opaque as it is primordial, Rotting Slowly certainly doesn’t jump out at first listen. Time and patience are required to appreciate the weird beauty of Cleveland’s vocals (she also plays guitar, banjo and, most memorably, autoharp) as they meld with the unruly tendrils, sudden stabs and ominous clouds evoked by singer/guitarist Nicolas Gonzalez, bassist Bradford Button and percussionist Faustine Hudson. When Cleveland laughs and coughs just after murmuring some lyrics during the seven-minute stretch of “It’s Tough,” it’s a rare break in the fever of this increasingly hypnotic album.

Gonzalez’s vocals are slightly more melodic and less ruminative than Cleveland’s, and they sing together at times, but all of the singing feels unmoored and fleeting, tugged and shoved by the ever-shifting musical forces beneath. It’s a bit like quicksand, and it gradually has a similar effect on the listener. An aptly titled album from an aptly titled band, Rotting Slowly is a weedy, freeform crawl that can recall Cat Power, Calexico and former Come leader Thalia Zedek. (And that’s just from the letter C.) But the more closely we listen, the more impossible it is to pin down, and that’s the joy of it.

DOUG WALLEN

 
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