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Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn

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Artist: Crooked Fingers

Album: Red Devil Dawn

Label: Merge

Review date: Feb. 10, 2003

Sweet, Sorrow

It would’ve been easy for Eric Bachmann to turn lazy following the dissolution of his band, indie-rock’s underachieving noise-pop laureates, the Archers of Loaf. Insane touring schedules, legal wrangling and the general franticness that defined life as an Archer would have almost justified a debilitating descent into obesity and drug addiction. Holed up beneath a sea of flattering press clippings and obsessive letters from recent college graduates who would confess to him that, "life just wasn’t worth living anymore," Bachmann could have hid under the weight of the Archers’ success forever. Thankfully, Bachmanns’ compulsion to make music is strong and his ability to make good music, even stronger.

Red Devil Dawn (Crooked Fingers’ fourth release) makes certain that Crooked Fingers was not hatched to simply kill time between North Carolina summers. Bachmann has clearly settled into his new personae. He’s packed away his fuzz pedals for good and picked up musicians who can accentuate his worldview with cellos and trumpets rather than lurid guitar blasts.

Upon first hearing the new album, you’ll swear there are more slow songs than fast ones but subsequent listens reveal that there are an equal number of both. You can attribute this disorienting effect to Bachmanns’ mesmerizing, storytelling approach. His consistently dreadful and dramatic tone stretches moments of sadness until they can seem like the horizon. Minus the slight lyrical misstep where the words ‘key’ and ‘free’ complete a predictably trite rhyme scheme, the lyrics on Red Devil Dawn are some of his most poetic to date. On the second song "Don’t Say A Word" he sings, "There ain’t no easy way to lose / The heart you called your home / And there ain’t no easy way to make it feel okay / When baby you’re all that you own." It’s the first really great quatrain of the album but certainly not the last. Later, on "Boy with (100) Hands," he croons over a gently picked acoustic guitar "Cause you’re better than the world you live in / And nobody told you so / Trapped in your ghetto gardening / With no helping hand to grow."

Bachmann moves beyond denoting the frailty of the human condition. He bestows human characteristics upon the sun, the moon, waves, light, darkness and fire, weaving them into a tapestry of ancient imagery. It’s as if Bachmann is reimagining the fantasy element inherent in fairy tales; he recasts the unadulterated characters as a hapless crew of miserable protagonists who ironically resemble the current picture of humanity. He’s overhauling reality for those who never felt comfortable with it. Rather than riding off into the sunset, his characters ride off into the sun, where their only contribution to the world is their charred remains.

If you haven’t cried yourself to sleep by the time "Disappear" rolls along, listen closely when Bachmann sings, "Sad songs should never last too long." He means it. But he means it only in the context of the song. Otherwise, Bachmann believes sad songs can and will last a long time. In fact, he’s built a new career upon that very belief.

By John Yandrasits

Other Reviews of Crooked Fingers

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Breaks in the Armor

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