Album review: The Handsome Family - Unseen
PUBLISHED: 12:00 03 October 2016
A light but crafted document of poetic melancholia from the American Mid-west.
The cult husband-and-wife duo (whose soothing vocals you might recognise from Far From Any Road, the theme song for HBO’s hit True Detective series) explore the stories, people and places around their native Albuquerque, New Mexico, for their 10th studio album.
Now veritable old hands, there aren’t many surprises in the uniformly pedestrian-paced Unseen - but fans will know that’s no reason to walk on by.
Brett and Rennie Sparks have all the ingredients for an accomplished, polished and often vivid set - as evidenced on opening track and lead single Gold.
An Americana murder ballad strummer, the protagonist wakes up in a ditch after a failed heist, a bullet in his gut and dollar bills swirling round him in the dust.
David Gutierrez contributes quivering mandolin to Tiny Tina, a beautifully-arranged piece about a fairground horse that’s layered with flute and glockenspiel in addition to acoustic guitar, lightly-brushed drums and the couple sharing the vocal lead.
Back In My Day’s downcast pining for simpler times when “we had maps that unfolded” and everything was, well, better, will ring true with many, and fears and hidden dangers are regularly referenced (Tiny Tina, Underneath The Falls, The Red Door).
There’s a generous warmth throughout, from the interplay of bass and piano in the slowly swaying King Of Dust to the mahogany vocal harmonies that bring Gentlemen to a close - a tribute to William Crookes who built the first vacuum tube in 1875, hoping to detect spirits from unseen dimensions.
With engaging subjects to offset music as benevolent and warm as your favourite old relative’s hug, there’s little not to like here.