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The Wingdale Community Singers - Night, Sleep, Death

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Artist: The Wingdale Community Singers

Album: Night, Sleep, Death

Label: Blue Chopsticks

Review date: Apr. 16, 2013

The title of Night, Sleep, Death augurs an album full of endings, but the third long player by the Wingdale Community Singers imparts a more irresolute experience. It’s by turns attractive and off-putting, like a person whose every persuasive invitation to hang out is countered by an action that makes you want to head for the door.

The Singers are a trio of heavyweights playing it light. Hannah Marcus, a singer whose solo albums have been enthusiastically boosted by the likes of Mark Kozelek and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Rick Moody, the novelist who has authored The Ice Storm and Garden State, share lead vocals and songwriting. David Grubbs (Gastr Del Sol, Red Krayola, Bastro, Squirrel Bait) takes care of business, contributing guitar, harmony vocals, and the record label that put this LP out. A posse of moderately well known people, including Tanya Donelly, Jolie Holland and Kid Millions, add extra voices and instrumentation. The group’s name makes it sound like a part-time endeavor, the sort of thing you’d rehearse once a week so you can sing to the neighbors come holiday time, and the music fits into the lineage of harmony-heavy urban folk rock epitomized by the Roche Sisters.

But the lyrics betray a loftier ambition. I love it when they work; Moody’s “White Bike,” for example, teases out the sorrow that underlies mundane life in less than 160 words, and wraps it up with a little violin solo that’s as lovely as a well-crafted coffin. But sometimes they’re a bit much. Marcus stuffs “Happy Ending” with so many self-referential details that, while I can see why the protagonist’s relationships are falling apart, I don’t want to be around her, either. That may be the point, but I don’t want to keep hearing the song, either.

The music likewise oscillates between appealing and off-putting. The main problem is Moody’s wobbly voice, which works OK in company, but wilts when asked to carry a song alone. I wouldn’t tell you to stay away from Night, Sleep, Death, but be warned that its rewards aren’t easily extracted.

By Bill Meyer

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