There's something undeniably suffocating about Lisa Germano's old records, the way her sweet, fragile voice struggles to free itself of thick, murky textures and subject matter so brooding and dark it makes John Cassavetes look like Walt Disney. Her most recent record, Excerpts From a Love Circus (4AD), lets a little more light into the proceedings, airing out the dense arrangements and giving Germano's delicate melodies room to breathe. On previous efforts her pretty, almost sing-songy melodies had a tense, translucent quality; layers upon layers of sound transformed them into hazy contours that you had to aurally squint at to extract from the throbbing soundscapes. This time out they float just above the surface. Her lyrics, however, remain some of the most painful and raw bits of introspection in popular music. She's claimed this album contains "imaginary love songs" which are "not really about love," but more about "thinking you're in love." Indeed, Germano's songs deal almost exclusively with an inability to remove oneself from unhealthy, abusive relationships; her narrators are gluttons for ugly punishment. Whether the abuse is physical ("Bruises") or psychic ("Forget It, It's a Mystery," which opens with "I hate you 'cause I love you"), the narrator always seems to know how fucked her situation is, but she's nonetheless hopelessly, compulsively stuck there. For the most part Germano doesn't try to figure out these quandaries; she just riffs on them--though a tune like "Victoria's Secret" pretty well cuts to the chase when it comes to self-hatred ("She says you are ugly / I am pretty / Your man wishes / You looked like me"). Slush (Thirsty Ear), a recent, off-the-cuff collaboration with Giant Sand under the name OP8, proves that this former fiddler for John Mellencamp isn't always so dour, but regardless of how uncomfortable her music might make you, the queasiness it can inspire is always soothed by a hushed, beautiful elegance. Wednesday, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. Peter Margasak
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Lisa Germano photo by Andrew Catlin.