After The Fall

The Sideshow Tragedy

Spaceflight Records, 2020

http://www.sideshowtragedy.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/01/2020

The stock in trade of Austin, Texas dynamic duo The Sideshow Tragedy is feral blues-rock—muscular, gritty guitar-drum workouts topped by urgent vocals. The challenge for any band of two, of course, is to achieve depth and dimension in addition to raw impact; the Sideshow Tragedy has typically achieved this through a combination of sheer force of will and judiciously deployed guest players.

After The Fall finds bandmates Nathan Singleton (voice, guitars, bass) and Jeremy Harrell (drums, programming, background vocals) once again heading for the Catskills to team up with Kenny Siegal, producer of their previous LPs Capital (2015) and The View From Nowhere (2017). The instrumental textures added here by Siegal (a variety of keyboards), Ben Senterfit (a variety of saxes), and background vocalists Storey Littleton, Casey Ramos and Cally Mansfield help give the band as full a sound as it’s ever featured—which in turn allows them to deliver greater musical variety than ever before, delving into both mainstream rock and r&b.

What hasn’t changed are Singleton’s lacerating lyrics, dark poetry full of frustration and anger, with occasional outbreaks of macho swagger bleeding into sustained anguish. Singleton is up front about the fact this particular set of songs emerged from the “emotional hellscape” that followed the dissolution of his marriage of 16 years, and although that bit of explanation almost feels superfluous, it certainly fits. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title track sets the pace with punchy, tuneful verses and a power-chord chorus that’s as mainstream rock as anything the group has ever produced, without losing the taut lyrical edge that’s always been at the heart of their sound: “Wore the mask so long, it became my face / Ran in circles for years just to get to this place.” The looming darkness grows as the propulsive “Easy Action” counterpoints the duo’s guitar-drums thunder with programmed synth accents and honking bari sax, with a late-breaking wailing background chorus providing the unexpected cherry on top. Completing this album’s initial trilogy, the dark-and-dirty machismo parable “Hold On It” achieves liftoff with a big assist from guest Marc Ribot’s apocalyptic r&b guitar and Senterfit’s psychedelic multi-tracked saxes.

The latter two-thirds of the album hopscotches styles and arrangements from track to track as Singleton’s lyrics continue to dig deep. “The Lonely One” sets a deliberate pace for what feels like a divorce song: “You can try and hold on tight but sometimes it's time to let it go / Now I'm out here on the edge, unwinding the wires / Burning everything I can, on this funeral pyre.” Meanwhile, “Same Thing” offers a heavy, snappy, full-band r&b vamp with Singleton speak-singing like a disillusioned lothario: “And I'm shaping up, to ship myself outta town / Everything I thought I knew is an illusion to me now.”

“Capital Crime” and especially “What I Mean” sound the most like The View From Nowhere, thunderous and menacing yet undeniably musical. Finally, “Forty Days” is a big, muscular love song set to an edgier take on classic r&b (“If you ever think, that you're all alone / I'm here to tell you baby you couldn't be more wrong”), and closer “Young Forever” inverts the immortal original’s song title while offering a direct complement to it, with Singleton’s dustiest, most Dylanesque vocal and Senterfit’s sax taking the place of harmonica.

At nine songs and 36 minutes, After The Fall is once again both tight and uncompromising, even as it continues to expand the duo’s sonic palette. Never an easy listen, The Sideshow Tragedy again proves that the darkest, most desolate corners of our souls are worth exploring, and that there are lessons to be found in even our lowest moments. It’s an album that ultimately urges the listener to hang in there and keep swinging ’til you connect.

Rating: B+

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