(Black Hole Sound Gallery, CD)
Long-time Burlington scenesters are probably familiar with Joshe Henry's oddball oeuvre. Since the mid-'90s, the songwriter has released scads of lo-fi, left-of-center recordings. Conventional wisdom places Henry on the same playing field as mock-rock superstar James Kochalka, but the comparison has never really been accurate. Kochalka's music, for all its quirks, is childlike and upbeat. Henry's, on the other hand, hides aggression and alienation behind a screwball façade. His latest, Life Is Such a Fucking Trap, boasts the highest production values of his career. But that's not to say it isn't a challenging listen.
Opener "Chain Me to the Plaza" finds Henry cooing blackly comedic lyrics over tumbling synth bass and malignant piano. "Chain me to the plaza and leave me there for dead / I'll sleep alone in a room of mice and dream of discount clothes," he sings balefully. The tune's melancholic detachment and ice-cold instrumentation sound like Kraftwerk played on a bargain-basement intercom.
"Tar Mouse Trap" is another in a long line of Henry compositions about claustrophobic love affairs. The cut's spiky piano progression and antagonistic lyrics are certain to delight fans who can't get enough of his relationship rants. Henry breaks new ground, however, with the excellent "I'll See You in the End." The tune eschews the scattershot arrangements and atonal yelping of previous efforts in favor of an inventive guitar riff and some surprisingly touching vocals.
The lovely "Instrumental" marries rich synth tones with phased guitars in a dreamy slice of futuristic kitsch. Eat your heart out, Brian Eno.
"Love Nasteez" casts Henry as a low-rent Lothario in a misogynistic romp about romance and venereal disease. "Dumpy Sweatpants" is likewise lecherous, its giddy instrumentation conjuring uncomfortable images of R. Kelly let loose on "Sesame Street." "You can feel the sweatpants tonight / You can feel the sweatpants are too tight / And it always turns from black to white," Henry enigmatically intones. Is he singing about race relations or the erotic thrills of comfortable outerwear? Only the artist knows for sure.
Life Is Such a Fucking Trap may be Henry's most accessible album to date. While his wacky persona is still very much intact, he's beginning to show signs of -- gasp -- maturity. Hear him in a rare live appearance Saturday, January 14, at Burlington's Radio Bean Cafe.