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ld & the new criticism
tragic realism • darla records • 2005

LD Beghtol is probably best known as Stephin Merritt's tenor vocal proxy on The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, most memorably for his breathtakingly extended "wanna go for a rii...iide" in "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side." In addition to his vocal prowess, Beghtol is a talented songwriter in his own right who has been fronting his own chamber-pop ensembles: first Flare and now his New Criticism. Like Merritt, Beghtol tackles various musical styles, with a distinct penchant for old-fashioned American popular music: country-western ("Laughing at You"), ragtime ("Burn, Burn, Burn in Hell"), folk ballad ("Death Lies Near at Hand"), Brill Building pop. Toward this end, his ensemble is populated with traditional instruments like accordion, ukulele, banjo, violin, and slide guitar. His reach also extends to include touches like squalling feedback guitar, spacey echo, and a cheeky nod to Cheap Trick. As for subject matter, well, let's just refer to the liner notes' handy Subject Index, shall we: "murder, suicide, accidental death, legal execution, revenge, voyeurism, fetish-related, attempted murder, possible suicide, death (natural cause), euthanasia, mania, borderline personality." Beghtol's black humor is entirely arch and self-aware, and it's quite funny more often than not. Among the splattering brains, poised razor blades, Midge dolls on a dunebuggy rampage, hellfire, asphyxiation, and motorized wheelchairs, Beghtol also can't resist dropping some names: "Best learn to grin and bear it / or write songs like Stephin Merritt," in "Apathy!" and "You never wanted much / just Morrissey, tea and sympathy" in "Definitive V2." The winking irony keeps Beghtol's Gothicism more in the realm of Lemony Snicket than Nick Cave (though this is not recommended for kids), and thank goodness for that. (mike.03.06)


three stars

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