The ever-present twang in Phil Wandscher's gorgeously atmospheric guitar work (previously heard in Whiskeytown) seems to have relegated Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter to the alt-country section. What this Seattle act really makes, though, is mood music of the highest quality, a la Chicago's Pinetop Seven. Sykes sings in a restrained, all-cried-out drawl, while the band creates woozy, slow-moving soundscapes that fit her vocals like a casket. Little lyrical interpretation is necessary here--thematically, the new Oh, My Girl (Barsuk) is nonstop darkness. "Between them trees / Is all the world's fuckery," goes the opening track, and things don't get any chirpier as the album rolls on. But Sykes's message would come across fine if she never sang a word: Wandscher is a marvel of deadly precision, blending Morricone-esque vibrato with brooding, echoey harmonics, and he's helped by the burnished glow of Anne Marie Ruljancich's viola and a few haunting pedal steel cameos by Greg Readling. Without solid tunes, of course, the Sweet Hereafter would be just another band on the Twin Peaks bar circuit; fortunately Sykes has a knack for writing minor-key melodies as memorable as they are spooky. And by sticking almost exclusively to slow, slow numbers, the group brings a cumulative urgency to the molasses trickle. Sykes and company play opening night of the Hideout's annual Block Party, on a bill that includes headliner Marah and Califone; see Fairs & Festivals for the full lineup. Friday 24, 7:30 PM, in front of the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $10 donation requested.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Karen Moskowitz.