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Jim DeRogatis

The Handsome Family’s ‘Unseen’ Is A Record That Needs To Be Heard

“Got a tattoo of a snake/And a ski mask on my face/But I woke up in a ditch/Behind the Stop-N-Go,” Brett Sparks intones in that lush baritone during the first seconds of the opening track “Gold” from Unseen, the 11th album by Chicago-to-New Mexico transplants the Handsome Family. And not only are we off and running on another of his and wife Rennie’s mesmerizing and novelistic journeys, but they’ve given us as good an opening line in the history of rock as anyone can name. How can you not go along for the ride?

The fact is, if this idiosyncratic duo wasn’t still relatively young and very much in its creative prime, calling the pair a national treasure would not be an overstatement. Hyperbole? Just try to find a misstep or even an example of just phoning it in anywhere in their rich catalog. True, the group rarely has strayed from its unique aesthetic, Rennie essentially penning screenplays for Quentin Tarantino that wind up getting filmed by Wes Anderson, while Brett mines that fabled vein of “the old, weird America” through the prism of post-punk/post-modernism/alternative country. But her twisted, funny, and touching storytelling and his fastidious and imaginative touches as a producer (belying the peyote-fueled campfire singalong vibe) simply never get old.

Whether you’re a fan who’s been hooked since the Handsomes rewrote Liz Phair’s “I Want a Boyfriend” about a pony eating baloney way back on their 1994 bow Odessa, or you came on board only recently, hypnotized by “Far From Any Road” when it appeared each week as the theme song to the first season of HBO’s True Detective, Unseen is an album that needs to be heard right now, and played often thereafter. Because, really, who doesn’t need a little brilliant back-porch weirdness in their lives?

Listen for an interview and performance by the Handsome Family on an upcoming episode of Sound Opinions.

The Handsome Family, Unseen (Milk & Scissors)

Rating on the 4-star scale: 4 stars.

Follow Jim DeRogatis on Twitter @JimDeRogatis, join him on Facebook, and podcast or stream Sound Opinions.

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