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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Spottiswoode & His Enemies

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Spottiswoode & His Enemies

Spottiswoode & His Enemies

(Rumplestiltskin Records, 2000)

One of the great things about Spottiswoode & His Enemies (for the listener -- less so for the reviewer) is how damned hard to pigeonhole they are. Spottiswoode sings in a baritone register and with a dark humor that invites comparisons to Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. Like all lazy comparisons, it's misleading: Spottiswoode is neither as bloodthirsty nor as mushily sentimental as the extremes of Nick Cave; Cohen is a closer match, but Spottiswoode is less interested in tricky wordplay, less resolutely dour, and less metaphorical (although he writes in an impressively poly-sexual set of personas).

But that gives you no idea what the record sounds like. This is a rock band with jazz chops, riding some seriously booty-shaking grooves. See what I mean? You try to describe it and you just sound silly. It's eclectic, energetic, and arranged with panache -- they're as likely to let the double horn threat of Candace DeBartolo and Kevin Cordt (sax and trumpet, respectively, mostly) drive the melody and use guitarist Riley McMahon's carefully sculpted tones for atmospherics as the other way around.

"Rattle the Bars," the disc's opening story of a transvestite wedding/prison break, starts the disc with a harsh clamor of feedback, grunting, and hollering. Thirteen seconds in, John Young's sinuous bass sneaks in, and he and drummer Tim Vaill lock into a smooth, propulsive groove. The noise fades away as Spottiswoode's tremolo-soaked guitar enters. "The bars of the prison are made of metal," he sneers. "Today they're going to rattle just like a kettle." The song is a little microcosm of the band's strengths and weaknesses: they can really play; some of the vocal lines are catchier than others; some of the lyrics are good, and some of them lean on the conviction of Spottiswoode's delivery.

But at its best, which includes the pulsing "She's not in Love, She's in Pain," and the perverse rock swagger of "Hell is Somewhere" (as in, "somewhere I don't want to go") this is some of the best music I've heard this year, and the hit rate of the generous seventeen songs is impressive (three of them don't connect for me, but none of them are skip-button material).

The band sells the record at shows, and it can be ordered through their web site, www.spottiswoode.com.

This review originally appeared in Snap Pop.

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