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The Coathangers - Larceny and Old Lace

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Artist: The Coathangers

Album: Larceny and Old Lace

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Review date: Aug. 11, 2011

Having been reared by the same Atlanta garage scene that gave the world The Lids, Black Lips, The Carbonas, and Beat Beat Beat, it’s no surprise that The Coathangers spent their early years as a band playing fast and loose with the party garage formula, banging out rudimentary songs about drinking and love that got by on a tremendous amount of style points. Like Black Lips before them (the only one of the above bands that’s still around, it’s worth noting), The Coathangers have started to take stabs at growing up, and Larceny and Old Lace marks a significant step forward for a band that rose to prominence with the help of a song called "Nestle In My Boobies."

On their previous recordings, The Coathangers’ lack of technical skill tended to be couched in a Question Mark-influenced angry naïveté, never taking off very far in a specific direction or surpassing a certain level of speed, variety, or intensity. On Larceny and Old Lace, the band is attempting to branch out, and the results are predictably unsteady. A weird recurring theme here is the breaking up of otherwise catchy or at least rhythmically interesting verses with terrible, tossed-off dissonant parts. "Trailer Park Boneyard," otherwise one of the best songs on the album, counters each chorus with unnecessary noise. "Johnny" does the exact thing. "Sicker,” too. The transitions are abrupt without being jarring, to the point where it’s easy to suspect self-sabotage. The abrupt, shaky guitar leads and tempo changes suggest an Erase Errata influence, but that band’s ability to stop, start and swerve on a dime is tough to match, and The Coathangers’ discordance comes off as toothless by comparison.

When they’re not mucking around with phaser pedals and cacophony, the Coathangers do eke out some impressive, if straightforward post-punk and pop. "Go Away” and its wandering guitar-drum counterpoint brings to mind all of those awesome, downtempo Sleater-Kinney songs. It’s so good, it gets away with the lyric "so close your eyes and dream of me."

Even during the album’s lulls, vocalists Julia Kugel and Stephanie Luke keep things interesting. Kugel has one of the strangest, most immediate voices in a scene full of John Dwyer imitators talking into telephones and whooping at the end of every line. Luke takes potentially ill-advised steps towards Beth Ditto soul, but never comes off as cloying or shallow. Compared to previous Coathangers records, the vocals are closer to the fore, and Larceny and Old Lace is much better for it.

The Coathangers are clearly a band in transition, and it’s very possible that this album’s disjointed nature is a result of the band throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. They’ve sacrificed some of the artless simplicity that made their older material so charming in pursuit of a middle ground, and based on Larceny and Old Lace’s high points, The Coathangers can be trusted to find it.

By Joe Bernardi

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