The Midnight Room
hat Jennifer Gentle titled their second Sub Pop album The Midnight Room is no surprise. The Midnight Room could just as easily be a horror anthology series or a well-appointed haunted house. And like any spook house worth its fake blood, there are as many chuckles as chills. Sole recording member Marco Fasolo takes the Jennifer Gentle moniker down the darker corridors of ‘60s camp, hung with Farfisa mucus and spidery guitar twang. Despite ubiquitous references to Syd Barrett’s influence, The Midnight Room possesses its own kooky brand of surrealism.
Their sound since 2005’s Valende has undergone considerable diminution: no trace exists of their maundering acoustic pastorals or twee-psyche numbers like “I Do Dream You.” In fact, a kazoo introducing “Mercury Blood” remains the only tip-off that Valende and the gleefully spooky The Midnight Room came from the same band. Oh right, except for Fasolo’s unmistakable vocals, which sound like a gremlin on helium. Press surrounding the album boasts that Fasolo recorded it in a house whose previous occupant had committed suicide by shotgun. But even so, the night never becomes oppressively bleak; Fasolo comes across more like a screwball than a maniac.
Most of the songs are composed around wiggy minor-key surf riffs that obey no traditional pop structure. The starkly produced guitars, brittle with reverb and treble, pop out from the cavernous background. Drums don’t keep time so much as stab out from the darkness. They’re highly impressionistic, barely ever alighting on a constant rhythm. Although the band lists Nino Rota as an influence, you would have to listen pretty hard to hear anything explicitly Italian or soundtrack-y.
“Twin Ghosts,” an attenuated drone, invites us in. With its choirboy harmonies and sparse punctuations, it could be an experimental Zombies track. The rest of the album drifts like a bat on a string between songs that will remind of either The Munsters theme or “The Cat Came Back.” Both “Electric Princess” and “Take My Hand” are bouncier and pretty much outright silly. The best songs do their danse macabre like Ennio Morricone performing Kurt Weill. If the lyrics shed any light on the world inside Fasolo’s mind, they’re largely submerged, although we get glimpses of haunted telephones and creatures that aren’t to be trusted. A few tracks fall flat and feel unnecessary. “Granny’s House” has an aggressive, nigh industrial, plunking rhythm. As a thematic embellishment to the album, it adds a few wrinkles, but as a song, it’s not much fun.
It’s too bad Sub Pop released this album during the summer—had they held onto it until sometime in October when the leaves are in their raunchiest state of decay, it could have been the season’s highlight. Creepy, impish, mysterioso, The Midnight Room succeeds with an unlikely kitschy pastiche.
Reviewed by: Charles Robbins
Reviewed on: 2007-07-27