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Chain and the Gang 

Down with Liberty ... Up with Chains (K)

Wednesday, May 20 2009
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After famously marketing socialist punk in Nation of Ulysses and MC5-damaged gospel in the Make-Up, the perpetually cool Ian Svenonius has another winning concept on his hands with Chain and the Gang. Using the same backing players as his pal Calvin Johnson's new band, the Hive Dwellers, Chain and the Gang's enjoyable debut album is often stripped down to finger snaps, humming, and incidental rattles of instrumentation. Svenonius remains a dry, rambling wit, dissecting the cult of putdowns on "Trash Talk" and the awkwardness of interviewing a band on "Interview with the Chain Gang." He also milks anthems out of meditations on reparations, a girl with an unpronounceable name, and, on the vintage soul gem "Room 19," an inviting hotel party. The pick of the litter, though, is "Deathbed Confession," which opens not unlike the Make-Up's great version of "Hey Joe," only to tell the story of hearing the revelatory last words from the agents behind various assassinations and conspiracies. It's the song closest in delivery to the Make-Up, thanks to Sarah Pedal's droll backup singing, and Svenonius gets us giggling within the context of a great tune. Some of Svenonius' experiments have come off better than others, but here the man's knack for retro cool proves perfectly appealing.

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Doug Wallen

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