The Twilight Singers: Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers

The Twilight Singers

Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers

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GREG DULLI IS the best bad singer in rock. He overemotes, he aims for notes he'd need a stepladder to hit, he frequently reaches for pathos and ends up with two fistfuls of bathos instead. In short, he's as hammy as any product Hormel puts its stamp on. And yet when his angst connects with the coruscating rock of his band the Afghan Whigs, Dulli's theatrical indulgences work. As gauche as Dulli's attempts at sounding "soulful" (read: "black") can be, at their best they generate genuine drama. The group's celebrated 1993 single, "Gentleman," for instance, pits Dulli's agonized shout over a jerky rhythm that feels like it's pushing and pulling against itself as hard as the singer's conscience--bringing about the kind of visceral unease that most indie rockers just write songs about.

A similar panache imbues Dulli's new side project with Howlin' Maggie frontman Harold Chichester and British downtempo duo Fila Brazillia. Although Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers largely steps away from the Whigs' grandiose crunch, much of the music here still sounds like that band, albeit with its punkier edges smoothed away. Here, Dulli is a tortured lounge singer, his dread-sodden croon perfectly suited to music that touches its sweetness with a dash of malevolence. On "Clyde," layers of acoustic guitars swirl like a hashish dream over an insistent sitar (played by the Screaming Trees' Barrett Martin), as Dulli drawls lines like (and I quote the lyric sheet verbatim) "Shot ded, by you again" and "The light upon your face/Iz takin' me, girl/To another time and place." Chichester, providing counterpoint, acts as a conscience who sounds uncannily like Canned Heat's Alan Wilson.

Again, none of this should work. But the drama here is quieter than on Whigs albums, with Dulli shifting down his tone just right. And Fila Brazillia, rather than reducing the singer into a shifting element along a sonic continuum, mold their soft-focused constructions around his persona. "King Only" is underpinned by a shuffling beat reminiscent of two-step garage and overlaid with forlorn, minor-key horns. "Love" skids along a breakbeat foundation, Aphex Twin-style, for punctuation. And "Railroad Lullaby" is a small-group tribute to Seventies Philadelphia soul. After all, as Dulli seems well aware, the secret of good ham is how you garnish it.