John Congleton and the Nighty Nite – Until the Horror Goes

4 out of 5

Label: Fat Possum

Produced by: John Congleton

Paper Chase, by its final album, evolved into this ooky blend of gloom and orchestral pop, perhaps losing some of its bite when Congleton’s frequently called-upon production work led him down some very musically-flourished roads, thus inevitably influencing PC, but his love for musical explosions and a lyrical obsession with violence and death kept the band sounding unique and fresh all the same…

It was a mixture of disappointment and relief when the band split, as we seemed one album away from maybe crossing a line and getting precious.

The production work still followed, some of it very much imbued with a Paper Chase-like sound, and then suddenly we had an EP: The Nighty Nite.  Was this the Paper Chase in all but name?  Something new?  …The EP was maybe too short to tell.  But Until the Horror Goes leaves no doubt: This is John Congleton but it’s not the Paper Chase.  It’s also the first album since God Bless Your Black Heart that’s given me them good ol’ music-spurred stomach butterflies upon a first listen.

The good and simple news is: It’s noisy.  I would not say it’s pretty.  (Which is a plus for those of us who miss that edge.)  Sonically, this is as busy as Hide The Kitchen Knives, as though years of working without a direct outlet allowed pent up energy to simmer and boil, finally released for the pleasure of our ears.  However, there’s much experience between now and then and that shows too, as Horror’s songs are whittled down to 3-4 minute necessities, getting right to their hooks and John’s fabulously blood- and disease-soaked lyrics.  From the alarm-ringing beat of opener Animal Rites through closer You Are Facing the Wrong Way, which gets appropriately grandiose, Horror will have you tapping your toe throughout.

That being said, the all out blitz doesn’t allow much room to stretch, and after the album’s first half (a mini build and release, with Canaries in the Coal Mine echoing some of the concluding track’s moves), your toe is tapping but the songs can lose definition.  John’s skill is in wrangling it all together: There’s a helluva lot going on here and it’s fuzzy and scummy bit precisely applied, so it never becomes overwhelming.  And the loss of definition seems almost by design, or rather, a planned sacrifice: Congleton’s lyrics are at their most clever and biting here, the imagery ripped from fears and nightmares without trying to dress them up too much as prose, which is what started to happen in latter day PC.  And there are a plethora of fantastic sounds and beats presented at their various moments of climax – no less, no more.  So this is an album with several albums’ worth of ideas, and yet it sounds miraculously cohesive.  To accomplish this, John had to pick up the pace and stuff it all in your ear without a break, leaving his aggressions expressed through the tempo and halting it at about 40 minutes before you panic.  Then back to that catchy opener…

Seeing as how this has rocketed Congleton and Nighty Nite back up to the top of my playlist, I think it was a wise compromise.