New Releases: The Paranoid Style

One of my favorite bands of the past few years has released their latest, The Interrogator, and it maintains the band's standard of excellence. As always, the Paranoid Style's centerpiece is the barrage of intricate storytelling from the ridiculously literate Elizabeth Nelson (a journalist and cultural commentator on top of her musical pursuits and full-time day job), delivered in her knowing deadpan. Past efforts have been drenched in historical moments that had me running for the lyric sheet and Wikipedia; but this time around, the lyrics seem less specifically wedded to historical fact (or maybe I was less astute on first listen). Nelson also feels less intent on tossing in crowd-pleasing references to her encyclopedic musical knowledge (ok, a few stray references to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, and Thin Lizzy make it through)--which doesn't mean she doesn't still love a brilliant music-based turn of phrase, as song titles like "I Love The Sound of Structured Class" and "Are You Loathsome Tonight" make clear.

Instead, the tales fee a little more open to interpretation, personal revelations ("The Formal" feels like a delightfully detailed youthful reminiscence, whether real or imagined) or savage cultural recriminations wrapped in colorful poetry, Nelson's prose at time almost chafing against the restraints of fitting into the verses. Which doesn't make the lyrics any less endlessly fascinating and inimitable than some of her more academically-inclined earlier songs. (On first listen, the couplet that grabbed me hardest was the afore-referenced "Loathsome"'s "the outside is dim, the silhouettes are slithering; everything you loved has grown hide-bound and withering.") 

Of course, Nelson's wordsmithery has at times made it easy to take her band for granted, but as usual they deliver solid and imaginatively varied backing. I assume it can be tough playing with the E-Street Band or the Heartbreakers or the Attractions, supporting a charismatic leader, but the Paranoid Style earn their place in that pantheon. Indeed, the guitar game is stepped up here, Nelson's partner Timothy Bracy joined by legendary dB Peter Holsapple, and there are plenty of songs as attention-grabbing musically as lyrically, from the "Lust For Life"-like "Last Night In Chickentown" to the Bo Diddley jamming of "Styles Make Fights" to the skewed indie rock of "That Drop Is Steep." Interestingly, while I've generally gravitated to the band's more upbeat tunes, it was the two ballads here--"Loathsome" and the absolutely dazzling album closer "The Findings"--that I found myself returning to first when I went back for a second listen. Surprisingly moving stuff.

Buy it on Bandcamp.