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The Handsome Family The Handsome Family
Album: Unseen
Label: Loose
Tracks: 10

This is, perhaps, the quintessential Handsome Family album. Unseen is explicitly focused on invisible forces, a thread that has been woven through much of their previous work. Foregrounding the theme distils an intoxicating brew. Here be tales of sirens, bleached bones, aquatic monsters and haunted kingdoms. Gentlemen is a tribute to William Crookes who tried to contact the spirit world through his invention of vacuum tubes: a typically Handsome heroic endeavour. Tiny Tina, the worlds smallest horse, brings dreadful pathos to a state fair, and Back in My Day both evokes and gently mocks nostalgia. Surrealism and humour cut through the darkness. The opening track Gold sets the tone; a classic murder ballad set in the heat of the gothic Midwest where the Sparks have found a home. The first time I heard this track live it was introduced disparagingly as "Far From Any Road Part Two," a nod to the impact a TV theme tune can have on audiences.

As ever, at the heart of the record is Brett's mesmerising baritone, the perfect conduit for Rennie's poetic visions. She is a truly fine lyricist, imaginative, insightful and eloquent. There's has been a quiet evolution over the previous nine Handsome Family albums as production values blossom, sounds get richer and Rennie's voice becomes stronger: all very welcome developments. Perhaps something new and astounding would provide a jolt of extra pleasure but I'm not convinced we need a dance remix just yet. The Handsome Family coven grows because of their unwavering commitment to their own unique truths and beauty. The verisimilitude resonates widely. As every good magician knows intention and belief can work miracles and I put my faith willingly in these tunes.

Each The Handsome Family record is a grimoire, conjuring a parallel universe, familiar in so many ways but with peculiarities that illuminate our own world when (if) you return home. Handsome Land is beguiling but sinister. True fairy tales. Magick, science, (super)natural life, death, chaos, terror and above all love. All the world is here in a record that messes with time and space, feeling both ancient and modern. Unseen is the most Handsome-ish of albums, slowly, subtly enchanting, wrapping its tentacles around your heart until resistance is futile. Richly deserved success hasn't changed The Handsome Family but it does make this world a better, warmer, more vivid place.

Morag Rose