Written by: Dave Cantrell
Make no mistake, have no illusion. Fears that have made their homes in every shadow that surrounds you be they cast before you upon the broken sidewalk or lurk in the perimeters of your very soul, exerting their weight on your weary bones, those fears are always coming to get you. It’s nothing personal, it’s their job. Not to, umm, fear though, there are a host of ways to deal with them. You can put on your Freudian slippers and, with the help of a well-paid guide, go shuffling about your cluttered past, hauling out the shadow-casting rubbish as you go; you can quiver under the coverlet like a bowl of jelly in their inevitable presence until they get bored with you and, for maybe a moment or two, slink away; you can blithely ignore them like they’re the uncool kids in your subconscious and go about pretending that everything’s fine while also pretending that everyone’s not noticing that everything in fact is not fine not even close (and/or just think you’re an asshole which is – probably? – worse). Or…OR…you can do as Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris, the duo at the heart of the curiously bewitching Charming Disaster, do: don’t simply face those fears but turn them and their shifty accomplices – superstition, the unknown, all that is darkly mysterious – into playmates, into comrades in the creative sphere. All art, after all, is a battle against fear, and in fact without that particular four-letter F-word art would be chaff, a bagatelle of flimsy aspiration, a patina of dressing akin to Victorian manners and yes, you guessed it, that last phrase is meant to steer us toward the project at hand.
For the length of their eleven year existence, Charming Disaster – discovered then covered by SEM when last album Our Lady of Radium arrived – have more or less unrolled and spread before them a well-worn map of the psyche’s, shall we say, less salubrious corners, chosen a destination and, ever intrepid and never tremulous as is their way, plotted a path to the heart of that particular darkness, or weirdness, or delight depending on your spiritual leanings. Here then, on Super Natural History, the usual arsenal of varied and appropriate sound-making devices at their command, the duo pursue their goth-skewered ‘pop with a traditional folkish bent’ – you’ll hear ukulele, glockenspiel, piano, et al – with a decidedly wry (if not at times slightly awry) sepulchral grace. The result has never proven anything less than arresting in ways as spiritual as they are deeply aesthetic and this latest, self-released three-three-twenty-three, is certainly no exception.
Where to begin but at the beginning and that is, with little shock, a song called “Monsters,” clad in that gently dark tension that is bound to result when the at-first-impression innocuous-sounding veers into, well, monstrous (if, y’know, loving) desire. And really this is kind of Charming Disaster’s thing, luring you in with an effortless sway while lyrics that have you going ‘Wait. What?’ (“can’t help what we hunger for/with appetites of carnivore,” for example, and we’re not talking top sirloin here) cause a quick double-take wherein the fact the track’s called what it’s called fully sinks in with an oh-yeah-that’s-right just before you fall back in to its sweet, damn near innocent embrace. In this current volume – we’ve come to view each new Charming Disaster album as a new chapter to be devoured in The Great Book of Darkly Wistful Esoterica – the pair venture further still into the curious netherlands with that nimble and knowing innocence that is their trademark, engaging these often grim thematics with a canny wonder.
“Mold and the Metals,” at the pace of an intimate indie waltz, could well serve as subscript in Lady Radium‘s diary (“contaminants accumulate in tissue and bone“), the horn-parped and playful “Grimoire” is nothing less than an easy-going grammatical marvel, “Hellebore” is as intriguingly conflicted as its namesake – it’s a poison, it’s a medicine, it’s both and it’s really quite pretty! – “Bat Song,” striking and lovely and touching in a way we by now expect (“my lover’s blind” is a key line) flits deep into the heart by way of the distant constant of its trumpet, immutable in its midnight loneliness especially as it echoes the soprano delicacy of Bisker’s vocal and there’s half the album gone by, cast as a spell by a duo intent on what one might call a kind of deliciously wicked benevolence but whatever the case we can assure you with some confidence that you’ve seldom if ever been entranced in quite this way, a fact the other half of the album – the bob and macabre of “Disembodied Head,” “Six Seeds” fecund pop classicism, the bespoke lament this is “Paris Green, “Manta Ray”‘s wiki-song whimsy, final track “Wrong Way Home” that seems to underline the pair’s love of each other’s love for the never-dying, lost-in-time yesteryear – only makes doubly clear.
Brought to life glorious life with the help of various quite capable hands at the ready – Hillary Johnson, bassist Bob Smith, drummer Rob Garcia and longtime jack-of-all-musical-trades collaborator Dan Godwin – Super Natural History is another very fine feather in the band of the band’s felt-brimmed top hat. Brisk in its sure-handed fashion, grounded as ever in a multitude of hallucinatory ways, for extra added persuasive heft Charming Disaster is simultaneously releasing an ‘oracle’ deck of tarot cards – the two have long used the shuffle of the tarot to help guide the random burst of fate of their proceedings – wherein each of the sixty cards, commissioned from a couple dozen artists, depicts an image related to each of the band’s songs recorded to date. Ask us and we’ll tell you: that’s just damned cool which of course surprises us not since listening to any Charming Disaster creation is almost itself an act of voyeuristic cartomancy that you just can’t turn away from.[get your socks charmed off in your favorite format here and explore more of Charming Disaster at their, of course, charming website] [band photo: Krys Fox]