12 O'Clock Track: The creepy old-timey twang of "Spiders," from the Handsome Family

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Handsome Family
It's been nearly four years since Brett and Rennie Sparks, the onetime Chicagoans who've long summoned the glory of old-timey music for contemporary ears as the Handsome Family, have released a new album, but the wait for new tunes will end on May 14, when the duo release their ninth full-length, Wilderness (Carrot Top). Yesterday the group shared a song called "Spiders," which is today's 12 O'Clock Track. Rennie, who writes the group's deeply literate, twisted, and funny lyrics, and usually exerts a light presence on recordings, strumming an autoharp if she plays any instrument at all, adds her brittle, sharp voice to the dulcet yet dreary croon of Brett here. Brett also plays all of the instruments on this song with the exception of the astringent fiddle lines shaped by another part-time Chicagoan, Steve Dorocke—who's known best as a whiz on pedal steel guitar. If you fear insects and snakes the song is sure to make your skin crawl, as an innocuous encounter with an arachnid—"a spider in a thicket crawled up on my knee"—turns into an inescapable nightmare, as the narrator is overwhelmed by creepy crawlers until "a million little teeth tore me to pieces." In the end the singer is transformed, phoenix-like, to skeeve out the listener: "I am many and nothing and I crawl up on your knee."

According to the band's PR, "the CD will have a companion release in a book also entitled Wilderness which contains essays and art by Rennie Sparks. The book expands and intertwines the ideas of the CD, making you consider anew everything from ant spirals and woodpecker tongues to the immortal jellyfish and the secret language of crows. The black and white version of the book will be published by The Handsome Family while Carrot Top Records will be releasing a deluxe box set of Wilderness which includes a full-color, fine-art version of the book, the LP and also a poster and postcards featuring Rennie Sparks’ colorful animal imagery."

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