Ever since 1993's Mouth by Mouth, His Name Is Alive auteur Warn DeFever has presented a vision of pop that seems deliberately fragmented and foreshortened. Xmmer is no exception. It's claustrophobic without being oppressive, and both static and expansive. Vocalist Andrea Francesca Morici delivers DeFevre's melodies deadpan, as if she remains unconvinced of their validity, while the backing consists of ostinatos, blues licks, drum rolls, and the occasional nod to '70s pop. The overall effect is creepy, unsettling—and not altogether satisfying. DeFevre remains an ingenious colorist, adding in touches of kalimba and dulcimer, but the songs often seem expedient and unfinished.
Still, "Go to Hell Mountain" works as a slice of sunshine pop, its four-to-the-bar piano chords modulating in the manner of Todd Rundgren or the Cowsills. "Put It in Your Mind" suggests the folk-rock of Crosby, Stills & Nash, while "Come Out the Wilderness" is essentially a one-chord blues track that never gathers momentum. Throughout Xmmer, Brett Lyman's snare-drum rolls perform the neat trick of impeding the music's flow while giving the illusion of forward motion. This suits the lyrics, which acknowledge pain without putting it into context. On "The Wolf Put His Mouth on Me," Morici sings, "All the world can't bring me back." It's a chilling moment, but Morici's emotionless vocals blunt its impact. "When You Fall for Someone" repeats the lines, "Everyone can read your thoughts/Everyone can tell you're lost." They could serve as a critique of a record that never quite makes its ambiguity sing.
HIS NAME IS ALIVE perform on FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, at the 400 Bar; 612.332.2903
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