[MELODIC MALADIES] Portland duo Strangled Darlings resides at a bizarre crossroad of styles—a deranged meetinghouse where wayward angels, mental patients and the devil himself meet. Seemingly unrelated genres converge into a dark and twangy mix of twisted freak folk, Romany melodies, Cab Calloway saunter, Tom Waits murder ballads and everything in between, all hammered out on a mix of traditional and modern instruments.
After turning heads last year with a gleefully manic, self-titled LP (and then dropping off the radar completely), George Veech and Jessica Anderly have returned with The Devil in Outer Space: An Operetta, a collection of 11 tracks featuring the duo's unique blend of eerie folk and dark, classically infused horror.
"It's much easier to think of these songs as characters," says Veech, a University of Virginia English major who arrived in town three years ago and met native Portlander Anderly shortly thereafter. "There's a voice I use or a playing style I use on each song, and I definitely feel like there's a story in every one."
Devil plays out as an operetta, bouncing between disparate (yet surprisingly cohesive) styles and tones, growing more compelling with each listen. Beginning with the dark folk twang of "Wondermaker," it holds tight to a macabre, acoustic sound for several tracks before the operatic "Angel," on which Veech sings in a falsetto to tell the tale of an untrustworthy guardian angel. Then the album amps up with heralding trumpets on "Heroes" and veers toward the groovy as Anderly channels Little Willie John's "Fever" on "Sandy & Stuart." The title track is a rollicking ride through the stratosphere in a spaceship piloted by Lucifer, while the closer, "Sail Along," brings things to a melancholy end.
Anderly and Veech are something of an odd match—he's a self-taught musical romantic who picked up mandolin and banjo for the project, while Anderly was classically trained as a violinist. In the Darlings' initial lineup as a quartet, Anderly had difficulty letting her violin sing on its own. Now that the group has pared down to a duo (the record enlists a handful of guest musicians), she has learned to trust her gut rather than just her training. Anderly also plays cello, allowing other violinists to fill the void as she treats her newly acquired electric cello as a bass, thumping thick beats like a cross between Les Claypool and Yo-Yo Ma.
Anderly's new freedom has meshed well with Veech's less-technical approach to songwriting.
"I never say, 'Can you do minor thirds?' or something like that," says Veech. "But if I say, 'Can you make it sound like rain during hot sex?' others will say, 'Oh, of course.' People seem to get that better than if I technically explain things."
SEE IT: Strangled Darlings play Saturday, March 5, at the Alberta Street Pub, with the Broken Bow. 9 pm. $5.