High Times in the Dark (Forty Below)
First some context, because this album perversely dropped at the perfect time for these ears: in the wake of the death of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, this writer had been listening to Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, and that led down a dark performance art/twisted cabaret rabbit hole that took in the recent reissue of Birthday Party man Rowland S. Howard’s excellent Teenage Snuff Film album, then Lydia Lunch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Amy Winehouse, Kat Robichaud… They don’t sound remotely the same but there’s a Berlin-esque feel. We’re all locked in our houses — time to delve.
The Claudettes don’t sound anything like any of those artists, albums and films, but there’s a wonderful vibe that they somehow share. The band refers to their sound as “garage cabaret” and that fits beautifully.
High Times in the Dark is Chicago band The Claudettes’ fifth album, and it’s an absolute gem. The key is the punk-blues piano of mainstay (and the brilliantly named) Johnny Iguana blended with the gorgeous vocals of future breakout star Berit Ulseth. It’s all framed by the rhythm section — Michael Caskey and Zach Verdoorn. The band is composed of super talented musicians, though the bassist and drummer allow the pianist and singer to shine.
But damn, Ulseth’s voice. She emotes her way through these 11 tracks, from the sultry swagger of “Bad Babe, Losin’ Touch” to the closing, utterly heartbreaking “The Sun Will Fool You.” She alternates effortlessly from knowing chanteuse to childlike innocence in a blink. Frankly, her work here is captivating.
There’s no filler here — the album takes you on a journey that is both enthralling and kinda exhausting. The full range of emotions is explored. It’s a record that ends and you want to hit “play” again. Don’t resist.
The Claudettes’ High Times in the Dark is out April 3 on Forty Below Records.