Sunday, December 13, 2009

Record Review: Alec Ounsworth - Mo Beauty

For Stomp and Stammer:

Alec Ounsworth
Mo Beauty


There's never been a voice quite like Alec Ounsworth's, one part slippery like a mud wrestler sliding around on himself, one part crunchy like rusted gears grinding to a halt. When I first heard his debut LP with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, his vocal style was so idiosyncratic that part of me thought he must be kidding. Then I realized how dead serious he was about songcraft. The two full-lengths CYHSY put out were simple post-rock at its finest, two-chord-based walls of sound, moving bass lines and Ounsworth's ridiculous howling soaring and ululating above it all. Lovely. Though the band hasn't made it clear whether the Clap Your Hands project has ended permanently or is just on hiatus, Ounsworth branched out this year with two releases on his own, one with a band called Flashy Python and one under his own name.

Released in October and recorded in New Orleans, Ounsworth makes it very clear that Mo Beauty isn't CYHSY and he doesn't want it to be. Leadoff "Modern Girl (With Scissors)" has certain things in common with Ounsworth's compositions as a member of CYHSY, yes. It's lyrically oblique; the melodies build upon themselves like layer cakes, each verse getting more topically specific as his voice rises higher and the tune winds tighter. "What Fun" and "Obscene Queen Bee #2" feature vocal lines that, characteristically for Ounsworth, rock back and forth like waves on a ripply pond. But the wall of sound is missing. Instead of a wash of guitar and bright keys and that glorious, kinetic bass, all the instrumentals have been provided by venerable New Orleans musicians. It's more like classic rock, more like jazz, more traditional. It's brass-heavy and masculine like a blues band, not shiny and euphoric like CYHSY...[Read more]

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