E.R. (Eldridge Rodriguez)

E.R. (Eldridge Rodriguez)

E.R. (Eldridge Rodriguez)

The Conspiracy Against Us

Midriff Records

It’s like this. Especially with the screams and wrenching bone-deep blues on “Tirefire,” Conspiracy is a textbook lesson on how to be a true doomed crooner — E.R. takes his cues from the greats: Johnny Ray, Scott Walker, Nick Cave — where it’s never too dark or too dramatic or too painful. The play of cigarette smoke against a lone white spotlight, the glint of a crumpled shirt collar, stained with wine, a hand pressed to the brow, trying to relieve the pressure… and after songs like “Lexington, KY,” it’s quite clear why the teenagers and housewives of the world flock to ball-less eunuchs like Michael Buble as their man of choice instead of stuff like this — they want the WELLBUTRIN, not the pain. And when you’ve got a guy who will hold a kitten and wear a sweater knitted by his grandma and eat a delicious cake all WHILE singing inoffensive crap, well, you’ve certainly found a way to while away those car rides back and forth to soccer practice, haven’t you?

Eldridge Rodriguez, more well-known as singer/guitarist in the Beatings, but here just the shadowy E.R., moves away from his day job of harsh noise and here fronts a sort of East Coast Divine Horsemen, ably assisted by members of the Spanish Armada. For Conspiracy, Rodriquez uses a dark palette of cabaret noir, an underpinning of the blues, twilit country torch, and a sense of strung-out Velvetsy hopelessness – all blessed by Saint Nick (no, not that one). Smoky verses give way to great massed, singalong, desperate choruses, signing carelessly as the whole world goes to hell.

The recording is deceptively low-fi, which actually ends up giving Conspiracy a bigger, more mysterious, and intimate sound, as the ear engages directly with the sounds flowing out of the speakers. And nothing could muffle THAT VOICE, a voice way too deep and way too old and way more pained than it should be for someone so young. A young acolyte of Mark Lanegan, Chris D, and Mike Johnson, keeping the torch flickering, he delivers lyrics brimming full of “just the two of us against everyone”, and no one does that doomed Bonnie and Clyde fuck-yeahness anymore. Just a note to say that I appreciate it.

The opener “You and Me” is pure magic hour, Bad Seeds alley/junkie torch — god, no one writes songs like this anymore, total Bukowski, two down on their luck doomed lovers/users — a story song with E.R. begging his hopeless lover to leave this luckless town with him. It’ll never fucking work. And that’s why it’s so fucking romantic. Well, that and the shuffling percussion, warm blanket of organs and Rodriguez’s sepulchral voice and woozy romance. “Stillborn in New Jersey” finds Rodriguez edging toward total breakdown over a taut, Velvets-gone-country twang. Hypnotic fiddle guides along a desperate waltz and Rodriguez’s vocal histrionics, collapsing into ragged breaths echoing in his chest and throat. CONVICTION. It’s so awesomely jarring when a mock cheerleader chant by girl backup singers of “Action! Action! We Want Action!” punctures the whining of a ghostly organ, and as it builds, Rodriguez bursts in with a harrowing cry of “The quick fix! Sold! To the women who are feeling too old….” Howls of ambient feedback accompany distant rumbles of percussion on the beautifully sung piano lament of “Tirefire.” FUCK! “Track 14” reminds me of Eno’s “St. Elmo’s Fire” recast as a suicide note. “And your makeup’s caked on and your legs look strong from all the fucking with them behind your head/ How can you look at me like that, when I know all the guys you were with” is pure Lou Reed venom, accompanied by a swooning, chamber-music backdrop and a final sarcastic coda of Sha-la-la-las. “Everyone’s got a plan and everyone’s plan sucks” lifts “Lexington KY” into the sublime, with venomous lyrics accompanied by a heavily treated piano. Something for everyone, surely.

Midriff Records: www.midriffrecords.com

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