The Court & Spark

Hearts (Absolutely Kosher Records)

Local act the Court & Spark seems intent upon wresting the crown of thorns from the hometown duke of despondency, American Music Club. The first half of Hearts features mournful tempos and an ambience of unremitting gloom. Yet C&S is no AMC clone — the band has its own style of engagingly uneasy listening. The sardonic “Let's Get High” transitions from a Neil Young/Crazy Horse crunch to a delirium of faraway piano, country-tinged pedal steel, distorted guitars, and M.C. Taylor's offhandedly seductive croon. “Birmingham to Blackhorse We Wandered” is an out-on-a-western-mesa, 21st-century cowboys' lament — windswept and seemingly foreboding until opening into echoes of wind and coyote, with a brittle banjo riff singing like a steel guitar and a Japanese koto. The second half of the album is a tad more heartening — the instrumental interlude “Smoke Signals” features jaunty John Fahey-like acoustic picking, naïvely simple piano, and New Orleans vocalized jazz brass, the latter warped psychedelically. Cinematic crests and swells, unsettling percussion, urbane orchestrations, all articulated with tantalizing restraint — it's as if Brian Eno, Van Dyke Parks, and Tom Waits collaborated for their counterpart to Tonight's the Night. Hearts is harrowingly beautiful stuff.

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