The Paranoid Style, Underworld USA EP (2017)
Weirdly, I discovered them through a random Tweet, which led me to their Bandcamp page, where I quickly bought & downloaded everything they had.
Singer/songwriter Elizabeth Nelson has a casual, conversational vocal style that calls to mind Jenny Lewis and especially Kim Longacre of the Reivers, plus maybe a turbocharged Amy Rigby to boot. She sounds like she'd be great fronting a fiercely intelligent country music act. Instead, Nelson's vocals are paired with what sounds like a cross between a super-tight bar band and a punk-infused straight-ahead rock band, maybe reminiscent of X or the Hold Steady. Meaning that for all Nelson's infectious, distinctive stylings being front and center, the band kicks ass as well.
The lyrics are hyper-literate, a barrage of historical allusions and biting commentary and colorful poetry that takes a while to unpack -- I'm still working on that, courtesy of Bandcamp's lyrics pages. (A minor nit, but I sometimes wish her vocals were a little higher in the mix so I could hear the lyrics better.)
While I liked everything I checked out, I'm particularly impressed by their most recent release, a six-song EP that clocks in at about 17 minutes, not a second of which is wasted. The lead-off title track is a haunting minor key affair, suggesting this one might be a bit lower key than prior releases; but the next track, the rollicking "Dominoes In Drag," confirms that the energy is not flagging a bit. The song starts by borrowing the locomotive drumbeat from Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" (there is a bit of glam in some of the band's work) and never lets up. The EP closes with the bracing "Revision of Love," where they take Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner" out for a spin to see what they can do with it. And everything in between is just as great, particularly the poppy call-and-response of "Dedicated Glare." (Sample lyric: "I'm on a Joseph Campbell journey/In a smashing dress/Too blessed to be stressed/I'm checking in with my bankruptcy attorney." No, I don't know what that means, but damn I'm trying to figure it out.)
Between the musical references, and occasional lyrical turns recalling everyone from Lou Reed to the Clash, I figure Nelson and guitarist/husband Tim Bracy, in addition to being well-read, have an awesome record collection.
Anyway, stop reading, go listen to this now. You'll thank me.
Here's the audio for "Dominoes in Drag" in case you can't play the Spotify playlist below:
Also, just because it's awesome, here's the band setting "The Thrill Is Back," from their prior LP, against a shot-for-shot recreation of Journey's horrifying "Separate Ways" video: