(Amble Down Records, CD)
Were there any justice in the world or, more specifically, the music industry, The Daredevil Christopher Wright would grace the playlists of countless hipsterly iPods — not to mention an Apple TV ad or three — and would be prominently featured at Pitchfork-friendly festivals around the globe. Of course, at least where the music biz is concerned, justice is a rare commodity indeed. So you can hardly be blamed if you haven’t discovered the shattering brilliance that is the Wisconsin trio’s debut full-length, In Deference to a Broken Back … yet.
A swooning phalanx of strings introduces “Hospital” and, thus, the album. Over this vocalist Jon Sunde delivers a graceful, elegiac exhortation, singing, “I died, on the way to the hospital, I died. / You cried, all the way to the funeral, you cried.” There is a stark, autumnal comfort in his sturdy, classically trained croon. Picture a somewhat less haughty — and far less grating — Colin Meloy and you’re sort of on the right track.
The sweetly somber mood continues on “The East Coast” and, to a lesser degree, the following track, “Acceptable Loss.” An air of wistful melancholia pervades the entire album. This is probably due in part to the disc’s producer, Justin Vernon, of indie-folk savior Bon Iver renown.
“A Conversation About Cancer” lightens the mood — atmospherically, if not exactly thematically. It’s a surprisingly raucous tune boasting a flurry of sucker-punch rhythmic and melodic changes.
“Bury You Alive” is pure, breezy pop splendor. Where the preceding numbers feature a head-spinning consortium of complicated arrangements, here a lone flute flits around straightforward, staccato guitar hits, while Sunde delivers subtly sinister lyrics.
“War Stories” is similarly stunning in its simplicity. Brooding and hypnotic, the song washes over the listener in mournful, cleansing bliss.
The band tosses a lifeline with the following track, “A Near-Death Experience at Sea,” which is equal parts doo-wop charmer and irreverent indie scorcher.
The Belle and Sebastian-esque “Stewardess” — a fictional tale about a couple who aspire to be a playwright and an airline stewardess, respectively — closes the album. Lyrically, it is the strongest track, encapsulating the dichotomy that serves as the disc’s conceptual cornerstone: the heartbreaking beauty of the mundane.