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Cousteau

Cousteau (Palm Pictures)

No offense to Nick Drake, but isn't it time to give another neglected singer/songwriter a turn in the chair? How about a few Saab ads for Tim Buckley, or maybe cynical, pointless reissues of every Richard Thompson album? What about a pop band that's as devoted to Scott Walker as Belle and Sebastian are to Nick Drake?

Well, the last concept is a reality. Formed by Davey Ray Moor of the Church, Cousteau possesses the same rich command of imagery and love of dense-sounding arrangements as Walker. Yet the smartest move Moor made was to recruit Irish singer Liam McKahey, a baritone who's equal parts lounge crooner and haunted Nick Cave acolyte; where Walker can be melodramatic, McKahey invests his lyrics with a more personal feel. His threats shake the floor on the opener, "Your Day Will Come," but it's the numbers in which he's the walking wounded that hit home hardest, such as "How Will I Know?" and "She Don't Hear Your Prayer," wherein the former beloved is conceived as a vengeful deity. These sensual dirges are at once rich and dangerous, like the work of an insane Burt Bacharach guiding Morphine. Even though Moor's lyrics tend toward the brainy (words such as "ruinous" and "cumulescent" pop up awkwardly), Moor knows how to write an evocative melody, as evidenced by the rippling acoustic guitars of "Mesmer" or the mourning flügelhorn on "The Last Good Day of the Year."

Cousteau is a record whose force is immediate yet graceful. It's convincingly lovelorn, but it never mopes; there's even a shot of humor on "Wish You Were Her." And although it's less ironic than its noir-ish sound would lead you to believe, it has more than enough style to match its sincerity, a rare mix these days. Moor has given birth to a unique and fascinating debut, possibly the sexiest record made by white men outside the Scott Walker canon.

 
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