Show and Tell: The Sepiachord Passport

First things first: not only did the nice people at Projekt send me a copy of The Sepiachord Passport, but I’m friends with the crew at Sepiachord. I was there the fateful night when Mr. Bodwell came up with a name for that genre of music that sounded like the descendants of Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Rasputina, and I’m very glad I was! Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Bodwell, I’ve been introduced to swarms of new musicians to listen to. The Sepiachord Passport is a wonderful sampler of quirky musical delights; while the core aesthetic behind the idea of Sepiachord is steampunk, there are glimmers of dark circus, burlesque, cabaret, and other sub-sub-genres flavoring this collection. Here, let me tell you about some of my favorites!

It opens with “Roll Up” by the Tiger Lillies, a band I will forever hold dear for their Edward Gorey album. “Roll Up” is a musical sideshow huckster extolling a list of seedy and glamorous sights, all to lure you into a darkened alleyway and possibly steal all your money. But you’ll be so entranced by the oddities on display that you may just decide to join the sideshow yourself …

Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys take on some themes from Alice In Wonderland with “Off With Her Head!!!”, but imbues them with a sense of nightmarish but enticing menace that is often missing from other tributes to Lewis Carroll. It’s a song that is perfect for a gathering that has more of an emphasis on mad than tea party, and I’ve found myself gleefully humming along with the crowd chanting “Off! Head!”, perhaps more than is seemly.

“The Scarlet Carpet Interstate, Part One” is a mesmerizing instrumental from Nathanial Johnstone & the Brazillian Surf Mafia, a band I’ve been lucky enough to see perform live. The song is sinuous and undulating, and beckons you to follow that Scarlet Carpet Interstate to what surely must be a more glamorous and mysterious existence.

“If I Told You Once” by Circus Contraption is the lament of a man who warned his ladylove that he was full of despair and “held in the grip of incurable vice”, and that she shouldn’t fall in love with him. Alas for her, she did, and was driven to take her life. You would think that such a quintessential death ballad wouldn’t sound as jaunty as this one does, but the song bounces along in a merry, if minor-key, way. At some point in the future, I would love to waltz around a darkened dance floor to this song.

I swear, I don’t just love “Kibosh On Your Scene” by Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band just because it uses kibosh in the title nor because the Emperor Norton is one of my personal role models. Honest. The song is a chaotic, jazzy instrumental that sounds like what sinister circus performers would listen to before they crept out to “recruit” new talent for their nomadic show of unearthly delights.

By all rights, “Sweet Cold Collation” by Professor Elemental is not a song that should get stuck in my head. It isn’t, for almost all strains of hip-hop leave me distinctly cold. But the mad genius who brought us “Cup of Brown Joy” and “Fighting Trousers” somehow manages to create a mixture of neo-Victorian sensibilities, vaudeville, and hip-hop that is irresistible.

Toy-Box Trio are another band that I’ve had the great joy of seeing in concert, and I’m thrilled that their song “Stamp collection” closes out The Sepiachord Passport. With a tuba, accordion, and yes, a toy piano, Toy-Box Trio are the soundtrack to movies that don’t yet exist; movies that would most likely be strange, scratchy stop-motion animation featuring dolls that come to life and strange shadows lurking just outside the bedroom window.

All in all, The Sepiachord Passport is 20 tracks of musical wonder, full of new things to enhance your music collection, to lure you into shadowy circus tents, and to make you think of vintage sepia photos where the faces seem to change right before your very eyes. Go purchase a copy, you won’t be disappointed.

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