Strangled Darlings: Live at the Alberta St. Pub

The Alberta Street Pub is an imperfect, lively place. The narrow churchlike performance space flanks the bar opposite the pub, though it’s walled off, forcing you to choose one or the other, pub or performance. So after you navigate past the old women gathered in the street wearing white flowing garments scented with exotic spices, their murmured conversation mysterious and compelling, you enter the front doors and turn left or right. Left leads you to a lackadaisical bartender; right takes you to the Strangled Darlings.

The bar is very dark, which I like. The bathrooms are small and ill-kept, which I don’t like but which inspires my unwilling nostalgia for the Austin music venues of my teenage years. The solitary girl behind the bar seems apathetic — not hostile, you understand, except in perhaps some vague passive aggressive sense — toward the twenty or so nattily dressed customers waiting in the single file line out the door to procure drinks at a snail’s pace. That the bartender is slow enough to lose a race with molasses already bodes ill for my voluntary return for a second round, despite the relative inexpensiveness of the wine.

Strangled Darlings. The band’s name sounds more sinister than its literary context bestows. Citing William Faulkner’s famous authorial advice that “In writing you must kill all your darlings,” the name taps into some core aspects of the band itself: Americana, self aware in its literary aspirations and of its heavy borrowing from the past.

Playing, Strangled Darlings feel like something constructed rather than grown. This is observation rather than criticism: music can feel organic and untethered, but these numbers, perhaps appropriately, have the handcrafted aspect of American quilts — colorful, stitched-to-each-other artifacts pieced together using the fabrics of dozens of other, older garments. This allows for a richness in texture, a sense of history and a sort of comfortable resonance with the past. Staccato circus-carny rap songs follow sweeping gypsy waltzes with Tom Waits edginess and the gangling grace of a Decemberists narrative.

There’s a sense of dense layering from song to song, one cultural or historical or contextual element over the next, so the cumulative effect becomes almost anthropologic. The band’s current album, The Devil in Outer Space: An Operetta, borrows inspiration from the short fiction of Gabriel García Márquez, and can be experienced first hand at a number of upcoming regional shows. Information, plenty of music samples, and tour dates can be found here.

When you go to the show, dress well. Preferably in garments styled before the onset of television.

(Portland, Oregon, March 5, 2011)

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