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Dynamite Steps
Sub Pop
Format: CD / LP / MP3
Release Date: February 15, 2011
By Robert Stribley June 2, 2011

The brash, brooding “Last Night in Town”¬†opens the Twilight Singers’ new effort Dynamite Steps. Initially, against ominous keyboards, it conjures a¬†noirish mood, until Greg Dulli breaks into the refrain and his voice rises with the guitar’s squelch into something akin to a squeal. Maybe Dulli’s not putting his best foot forward with “Last Night in Town” – the contortions he puts his voice through here can be trying at times. Frankly, he establishes a yelping zone somewhere between Bono and Chris Martin, and visits it a little too often. When the bombast outweighs the otherwise carefully configured atmosphere, he loses listeners. When he restrains himself, however, Dulli more successfully maintains a mood. On the next track “Be Invited,” for example, the former Afghan Whigs singer manages to keep the vibe, though one feels him barely resisting the urge to break into a particularly unattractive flavor of 1980s-style keening. Fortunately, the thudding drums and sinuous strings which accompany him help preserve the escalating sense of tension.

“Waves” starts out stealthily, too, before guitars crash in at about the minute mark and Dulli joins with his own vocal squall. But it’s four songs in when Dynamite Steps really hits its stride. With “Get Lucky,” Dulli largely avoids histrionics while maintaining the grime. The song starts out softly, Dulli singing against slowly drawn cello, until the drums slam in on the second verse, along with strings on the second instance of the chorus. Those same strings soar one moment then scratch the next, when Dulli sings that “there’s a monster in your head.” If this execution sounds rather studied, it’s nonetheless lovely for it. Standout tracks “Gunshots” and “On the Corner” follow, wearing their noirish feel in their titles. Then “She Was Stolen” wheezes to life with the whine of an organ, and as Dulli hints at death or maybe suicide, the guitars and drums stride along at a martial pace.

“Never Seen No Devil” follows and bears a louche, melancholy feel to it with attendant fiddle and banjo contributing to a light country feel. Here, the darkness is laid on thick as Dulli sings of the blowback from revenge and confesses he’s shaking off the demons that are “coming after me.” The Devil makes a couple of cameos here. He’s mentioned in the opener – within the song’s opening bars, even. “The Devil says you can do what you like,” Dulli warns. Considered as a whole, the entire effort proves a dark warning. In fact, there are enough dimly lit corners and lurking evils on Dynamite Steps that the effort practically qualifies as a concept album.

Hovering near the end of the collection, on “The Beginning of the End,” Dulli croons, lapsing into falsetto, “Some creep at night / Some run and hide.” Danger still lurks. Then he closes out this dark arc with the somber title track, his voice stiffening in amber as guitars softly jangle behind him. Gradually the band folds in hand-claps, some wah-wah guitar, and eventually a storm of guitar until we’re still left wandering into a thick gloom, while Dulli proclaims softly, “You’ll love me.” We know better than to believe him. And it’s a fitting end to such a crepuscular album.

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