- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

Twinemen

Sideshow

Hi-N-Dry

If 2004, especially what happened on Nov. 2, is a very bad memory, Twinemen’s “Sideshow” awaits your embrace. Its most topical, and catchiest, song offers fantasy relief for liberal dyspepsia: “No predictions, no reviews/Don’t ask me/I slept through.”

Actually, “I Slept Through It,” an ambling funk number sung with a sneer by former Face to Face frontgirl Laurie Sargent, could be a self-chastisement: for sleeping at the switch, for apathy, for not noticing what lefties characterize as the creeping cruelties of life under the prez. “When I woke up, I had no choice,” Miss Sargent sings, allusively referring to the specter of Dixie Chicks boycotts and “censorship.”

All right, so “Sideshow” may just be a bitter reminder of everything we all hated about 2004: namely, the relentless politicization of the popular arts (necessary to some, gratuitous to others). But, while it may pick at the scabs, it also offers real salve.

The evocative “Twilight,” co-written by Miss Sargent and guest bassist Andrew Mazzone, gets my vote for the most sublime ballad of 2005. (I know it’s early, but, hey, it’s never too early to start keeping score.) “I gave up all my weapons, gave up all my fight,” Miss Sargent unloads, with healing power.

Twinemen, a Boston trio with some interesting outside help, formed from the rump of the ‘90s alt-rock band Morphine after the onstage death of Mark Sandman, its chief singer-songwriter. Miss Sargent assumes the wheel most of the time, trading vocals with multi-instrumentalist Dana Colley while softening the hard, psych edges that were Morphine’s trademark.

The blues-on-acid-reflux is still here, but it’s not central. Credit for the broader palette also goes to Mr. Colley, a nonstop experimenter who plays a grab bag of horns — sometimes simultaneously — and keyboards to create unpredictable embellishments that make each track memorable.

Mr. Colley’s various warbles and whooshes are, by turns, “Pink Panther” and Pink Floyd. Percussionist Billy Conway plays unobtrusively — to, not against, the fabric of the songs — but can propel a groove when needed.

“Sideshow” opens with the caustic “Wishers,” a swirling, hypnotic brew filled with sinister noises and talk of stalkers and evil eyes. The voodoo gradually gives way to seduction on “In My Head” as Miss Sargent purrs breathily through a reverie about wooing a man away from his wife while Mr. Colley adds well-placed flourishes on a vibraphone and baritone sax.

Mr. Colley sings through a grainy filter and blows a nasty harmonica on “The Definition of Truth,” an experiment in chaotic blues that is repeated to weaker effect on the long, hook-free “Saturday.”

The to-ing and fro-ing between Mr. Colley and Miss Sargent produces a riveting tension that sustains the album, which ends, appropriately enough, with a tune called “The Circle.”

“If you wait long enough, it all comes around,” Miss Sargent playfully croons. “Maybe tomorrow will feel like yesterday.”

There you have the pleasure — or perhaps the pain — of “Sideshow” and of Twinemen.

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