19 May 2017

The Handsome Family: "Unseen"

In the absence of excellence, Unseen becomes almost ordinary
By 2016 the songwriting duo The Handsome Family have built quite a following on the merit of several albums. Their latest album, Unseen, doesn't seem to be about elaborating on their sound, and this shouldn't come as a surprise or even a prerequisite for a new Handsome Family album. Few do the style that the duo have hunkered down in better than they do, and so they keep it simple by staying within their comfort zone.

To elaborate, there isn't much new under the sun when The Handsome Family once again strike up their trademark down-to-earth country-folk tunes. Melancholic as always, their soothing slice-of-life music pieces play with the same gothic semblances as per usual, but it works well because this heavy-handed approach hasn't yet grown stale.

"...keeping it simple in what they know."

Their pleasing guitar playing and vocalisations, with laid back bare-minimum rhythms, provides an exceptional backline for their darkly humorous lyrics. As always, the duo works best when they're the darkest, keeping it simple in what they know. The album meanders and drags its proverbial feet somewhere around the midway point, but continues with renewed vigour with the organ-laden ballad The Red Door.

Unseen doesn't feel like any more or any less of an album than most of their previous releases, and it's hard to recommend this to any specific type of fan without simultaneously recommending it to anyone. If you like their older stuff, Unseen continues in the same style and provides some new unheard material for you to enjoy. If you're new to The Handsome Family - or alternative Americana in general - Unseen would be as good a place to start as any.

This is perhaps where the album fails. In being such a text-book example of the genre and the artists' performance of the style, its familiarity becomes so general and undefined that it seems almost commonplace, so that even if the songwriting is more or less as good as usual, it teeters on the brink of tediousness.


Released in 2016 by Loose Music


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