When Jennifer Gentle released their debut album Valende stateside, they came off as delightfully eccentric, vibrant, and just a little bit loony. Such is the power of a strong Syd Barrett influence mixed with fuzzboxes, vocal effects and Italian backgrounds. Since the duo has been slimmed to sole founding member Marco Fasolo, they’ve added a heaping dose of `creepy’ to their repertoire, trading in the upbeat psychedelia of their debut for a spectral, haunted garage rock sound that sustains the Syd Barrett feel, albeit with touches of Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price. Hence, The Midnight Room couldn’t be more apt a title for this spooky trip.
Given that there are tracks titled “Twin Ghosts,” “The Ferryman” and “Mercury Blood,” one could certainly get the feeling that ghouls and hobgoblins are haunting this peyote-laced joint, but the music merely brings to life the twitchy candelabras and ominous looking cobwebs. “Twin Ghosts” comes with an atmospheric eeriness, reverb-laden vocals and piano inviting the listener in for a stay at Jennifer Gentle’s hilltop manor. From there, the airily sinister sounds transform into a loud, electric ghost and skeleton romp, the likes of which would make anyone get over their heebie-jeebies.
“Telephone Ringing” stomps in like a knife-wielding madman’s shadow on the wall, suspenseful and fuzzy, but melodically brilliant in ways that few bands today dare to attempt. Similarly, “It’s In Her Eyes” traipses around like a whimsical phantom, while “Take My Hand” lightens the mood with a Kinks-like vaudevillian number. Back to the supernatural jamboree, “The Ferryman” riffs furiously on harmonized progressions ascending and descending like creaky staircases. One feels the need to look over his shoulder, lest he be followed by a vampire or monocle-wearing count with a taste for mischief and evildoing. Ah, but how vibrant and baroque it goes from there, with the fanfare of kazoos opening “Mercury Blood,” ushering in an epic, medieval march.
Had Vincent Price and Federico Fellini ever collaborated, Jennifer Gentle could have easily provided a fitting soundtrack to their cinematic creation. Fasolo’s melodic creations have both the supernatural appeal of the former and the eccentric surrealism of the latter, mashed into a wonderfully arty style of pop. The Midnight Room is truly one of a kind.
Deerhoof – The Runners Four
Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Safe as Milk
MP3: “Electric Princess”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.