Monday, February 25, 2008

Album Review: Scary Mansion – Every Joke is Half the Truth

I’ve been a member of eMusic for two years now, and one of my favorite things to do on the site is use some of my monthly downloads to try things I haven’t ever heard of before. Sometimes this practice doesn’t work out so well, but in the recent case of Brooklyn’s Scary Mansion, it worked a treat. Every Joke is Half the Truth is a great record, full of well-orchestrated tracks full of emotion and a more than slight sense of déjà vu. You see, Scary Mansion’s Leah Hayes is not Cat Power, but she sure as hell can sound like her. Hayes’ voice is all the best bits of Cat Power (crackling, breathy fragility fraught with all sorts of yearning and emoting), but with something edgier bubbling just beneath the surface. A roughness emanates in her voice, and this raw, exposed quality adds honesty and bruised believability to the already fantastic songs.

Album intro, and one of my favorites, “Captan,” drones its way to life, and drapes its churning, feedback-filled blanket over your willing consciousness. Both the guitar and Hayes’ voice are particularly biting, making for a special introduction indeed. An abrupt ending immediately segues into a song that couldn’t be more different, the magnificently melancholic “Go to Hell.” “Sorry We Took All Yr Money” is a knockout, an upbeat yet warbling track, showing off Hayes’ tightrope vocals and the band’s deftness at constantly shifting tempos. “New Hampshire” is a stripped bare, country-tinged song drenched in Hayes’ somber best. She shines in particular on this track, and the bitter “Shame,” which features the refrain “you give shame/a very bad name,” along with other such negative lines. Cheekily, the “Intro” isn’t until song 7 on the album order, which you can take as you will. I like to look at it as a play upon not needing an introduction, or perhaps it’s a backhanded, near-omission. Either way, it’s one more really good song on an album full of them.

Though Scary Mansion sounds nothing like the Smiths, I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the song “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” when listening to Every Joke is Half the Truth. The sentiment contained in the lines “it’s too close to home/and it’s too near the bone” is echoed over the Scary Mansion album, and the bands have in common their ability to make beautiful noise out of pain and sadness (though, of course, Morrissey is one of the masters at this particular art).

The moral to this particular tale? With music, as in life, sometimes it pays to close your eyes and take a chance.

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