No second acts in American lives? Poppycock! Out from the stygian blackness of our nation’s capital comes fabled music critic Casey Rae-Hunter. Once a Seven Days staffer, the ex-Vermonter now travels by his blog-hardened sobriquet, The Contrarian. Bunkered in Washington, D.C., Casey day-trades as communications director for the nonprofit Future of Music Coalition. But this policy wonk moonlights in the macabre, and it seems he’s met his muse. Cloaked in cultish affection, Eldritch Musicks is a grim Valentine to literary gothics such as Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft — barons of early 20th-century horror who’ve long inspired devilry.
From its very cover, Musicks imparts a kind of pagan mystery, full of foul beasts and peering eyes. And sinister epics such as “Dweller on the Threshold” don’t disappoint. Thick with delay, the track’s syrupy crawl will stone listeners; a bewitching flight that finishes under wailing guitar. “I’ve come to silence your chatter and sever your tongue,” whispers the ghoulish narrator, before crushing a beautiful post-rock coda.
Feeling nostalgic? “For Lavinia” is a hazy, psychedelic dreamscape evoking Meddle-era Pink Floyd. One can almost taste the absinthe, as jazzy percussion and Eastern scales recall 1970s exoticism.
Divorcing his work from the world, The Contrarian played and produced almost everything on Musicks himself. But Jared Metzner’s shadowy cover art and a handful of eerie instrumentals hint at collaboration, such as the four “Eldritch” interludes performed by “the Ten Thousand Things,” according to liner notes. These reduce sections of the album to dissonant shivers of sound whose droning sibilance shifts from ambient to outright scary. They distort an otherwise reserved psych-rock effort, which at times conjures Blue Öyster Cult and Porcupine Tree. In particular, “The Cove” is incurably addictive; a chord-driven single that mixes broad acoustic rhythm with soaring electric riffs. And while its themes are predictably bleak, The Contrarian casts hooks deep into the lake of feedback, offering listeners a poppy chorus amid the void.
Steeped in Lovecraftian lore, the fiction here is baroque. “Nyarlathotep” grooves and shrieks like the writer’s tentacled deity itself, stepping out to boogie from the fringe. Other detours include Native American stomps (“Sunken City”) and folksy campfire tales (“Crimson Village”), proving there’s more to The Contrarian than pulpy doom.
Long ago, Musicks and its cosmic sigils would surely have seduced occultists in legion. Today, such borrowed mythos should set fans swooning. Did Casey Rae-Hunter invent “haunt-rock”? Probably not. But Eldritch Musicks proves he’s a practiced alchemist, by reanimating a genre that has listed too long.
Eldritch Musicks is available at www.thecontrarianmedia.com and most major online music retailers.