Artist: The Handsome Family
Label: Milk & Scissors Music
Release Date: 09/16/2016
Make no bones about it… 2016 sees The Handsome Family as decidedly strange and representative of macabre contemporary Americana culture – it’s just that perhaps now they’ve embraced it better than before. Unseen finds Brett and Rennie Sparks two years after an unexpected spike in popularity due to True Detective fame, while simultaneously finding the duo displaying an outward reverence for the genre and subsequent fan base that has bolstered them to alt-folk antiheroes.
Unseen is a surprisingly chipper output from The Handsome Family, while still capturing the jaded and harsh realities of our national pastimes. Lampooning state fairs, recreational sailing and casual ghost sightings, the Sparks still take these topics to task, but in a more mute and subdued manner.
Much of Unseen sounds like a warped take on Buddy Holly’s “Raining In My Heart,” swapping strings for the more conventional dobro and the like. Still, there’s the mentality of hillbilly (or psychobilly or any prefix befitting “billy”) music finding a production suite that comes off as ironic purely in concept in both Holly’s later career and The Handsome Family’s latest. The geists of their old, chin-curling sound still remains, but the filter of tamping said ghosts down is omnipresent.
It’s unlikely that anyone expected The Handsome Family to stick around with the prevailing strength of weirdos in the alt-country scene. It may not be revelatory work, but one would be hard pressed to find more true blue progenitors of the darker side of American music who are still working hard to get you to question a bump in the night.
– Jake Tully