[UNBRIDLED ECLECTICISM] "We call it our 'Wet Album,'" Courtney von Drehle says of 3 Leg Torso's richest, most colorful record since its 1996 inception. The phrase is both a play on the Beatles' White Album and a term for reverb, and it's a fitting joke: Recording engineer Drew Canulette's use of studio techniques is unprecedented for 3LT, and the album, Animals & Cannibals, is a wild one.

The Portland band's instrumentals always rely on the signature interplay between Béla Balogh's fiddle and von Drehle's accordion, but this time around, its expansive vision demanded a broader palette. Band members Gary Irvine, Michael Papillo and T.J. Arko and a host of guest musicians contribute everything from Weissenborn (a Hawaiian acoustic lap steel guitar) to French horns, glockenspiels and bike bells on the album. That's not to mention electric guitar, which von Drehle has been playing more of lately.

As ever with the "world chamber pop" ensemble (which helped pioneer the now popular neo-cabaret sound), 3 Leg Torso's styles roam all over the map, from klezmer ("Frailach #1") to Japanese pop ("Akiko Yano") to waltzes, tangos and various Eastern European rhythms. The seven years and uncounted live performances since the last record gave the tunes the opportunity to develop into fully formed creations. Still, ambitious pieces like "Bus Stop to Oblivion"—which lurches from country moseying to sprightly polka to guitar pop—initially perplexed some band members.

"We knew they were all strong tunes," von Drehle says. "But we didn't know whether all those pieces would hang together. So it was a pleasant surprise to listen to the CD all the way through."

Two elements pervade all the music: a sense of fun, which tingles even spacious ballads like the gorgeous "According to Chagall" and "The Last Dream"; and a certain theatricism, which is no surprise considering the band's work in theater and film. Still, there's no restraining 3LT's irrepressible, musical eclecticism, which has always both broadened its appeal and made the group difficult to market. "As musicians, we do have a lot of interests," Balogh says. "All the people we play with are really skilled and do a lot of things." Von Drehle agrees: "We've put our faith in making good music. We'll worry about the category later."


3 Leg Torso releases

Animals & Cannibals

July 31 at the Alberta Rose Theatre. 8 pm. $15-$25. 21+.