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Wasted Wine’s Robert Gowan and Adam Murphy are no strangers to many purveyors of the Upstate music scene. What began as humble duo of traveling troubadours has evolved into a gypsy collective of iconoclasts, continually pushing their dark musical cabaret to its limits with the inclusion of bellydancers, circus folk, art exhibits and a variety of artistic mediums for the band’s live acts. I would not at all be surprised to find this band in the favor of Amanda Palmer or fans of her work, as the love for genuine theatric styles in both composition and performance seems to be lacking these days. For Perpetual Spirals of Power & Pleasure, the band’s fifth album, Wasted Wine pulled out all the stops, delivering not only their best release to date, but one of the most finely crafted albums this year.
The album begins with “Perpetual Spirals,” a gloriously creepy yet simple introductory track, featuring Murphy’s light voice accompanied by subtle string arrangements and what sounds like a child’s antique music box. What makes this initial track so effective lies in it’s authentic ambiance. Murphy’s voice conveys a lost innocence, yet the music plays like a broken overture rather than set pieces to show off any sort of gimmicking aesthetics.
And this is what sets Wasted Wine apart in general. Each song features deliberate, careful orchestration. Few things come in as whimsical or loosely planned. Think of each note played as a textural brush stroke in a Van Gogh painting. Wasted Wine’s meticulous treatment towards how the music is composed, played, and arranged within each track resonates a certain focus, so that while some pieces stick out, there remains a cohesiveness to the whole work, a cohesiveness that easily feigns away any potential insult of “kitsch” or “gimmick” one might throw at other acts attempting such theatricality.
As the opener segues into “October 10th,” we find Wasted Wine’s European musical roots. The Roma leaning serves as a cool refresher in a time when it seems every upcoming independent act is simultaneously rediscovering Americana. However, the band doesn’t remain content replicating a proven formula, and begin to incorporate electric rock guitars and bass, performed by Robert “Buck Dollars” Buckingham and Lou Buckingham respectively, charging the song with an additional jolt.
The following ten minute opus “Her Brother, He Gave Me Some Word,” begins to unfold all of the cards on Wasted Wine’s table. More prominently do you hear the duality between Murphy and Gowan’s vocals, both of which are key players on the theatre stage set by the music. Murphy’s lighter vocals belie haunted innocence, a lightness, and a less sinister joviality at times whereas Gowan’s Tom Wait-esque performance portrays a dark, gruffer, more tarnished narrator, whose intentions could at times come off more sinister. Now neither of these voices are “parts” of any concept that I’m currently aware of, but something I certainly picked up while listening. Nor are these any sort of rule to go by as they both have their own moments on opposite sides of the coin. Generally, however, the dichotomy between the voices Murphy and Gowan seem expertly played out as these two magnetic forces.
As the album moves forward, a sort of pace becomes set that eases the listener into Wasted Wine’s style. It’s not repetition, exactly, but there is a melodic tone of sorts that seems to ghost in and out of the beginning of the album and carries the pace with it. A pace that the band shatters along with potential expectations in the fifth track, “White As Snow,” where the electric rock instruments command the forefront and add a thunderous symphonic ambiance.
From this point on, anything goes. Mixtures of the variation of styles, tempos, and themes are sprinkled throughout the remainder of the album, painting vibrant tapestries of characters caught in odd situations and great ballads of downtrodden men and women through misfortunate decisions. Childlike creepiness is touched upon once again with more thoroughness in “You, Instead,” and we get a full sing-song carnival in the tradition of the traveling bards of old in “Caroline.”
Played by true raconteurs, Perpetual Spirals of Power & Pleasure richly offers up eleven tracks that are guaranteed to entertain and thrill those with an ear that yearn for misbegotten tales of scraggly vagrants, twisted streets, shattered lives, and broken dreams all wound together in a merry bunch of melodies in one digestible sitting. Though colorful as the cast of their album may be, none of them hold a candle to the raw storytelling talent of the tellers of tales themselves. Wasted Wine further prove themselves to be one of the great hidden treasure troves of not only Greenville, but South Carolina. Without a doubt, Perpetual Spirals of Power & Pleasure is my favorite release so far this year, and upcoming releases have had the bar set considerably high.
Perpetual Spirals of Power & Pleasure will be released this fall, with a release party to be held at The Warehouse Theatre on October 1st. But we’ll tell you more on that special event closer to it’s date. For now, though I’d prefer you had the pleasure to listen to the entire album as a whole with each song in it’s proper place, here’s two selections from the record: “White As Snow” and “The Dance.”
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