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Bill Rieflin & Chris Connelly: Largo

Chris Connelly's transformation from young hellion to introspective songwriter couldn't have been more unexpected. As a vocalist in Ministry, Pigface, and Revolting Cocks, Connelly caterwauled like John Lydon with his hair on fire, and the music was appropriately agitated. But Connelly's solo work (not to mention his self-published volume of poetry) reaches well outside of industrial music for inspiration, leaning instead toward the melodramatic pop preferred by Scott Walker or David Bowie. Blonde Exodus, Connelly's second album with The Bells, doesn't immediately sound as strikingly beautiful as the band's debut, The Ultimate Seaside Companion, but its gentle musings benefit from his growing strength as a vocalist and lyricist. Blonde Exodus is similarly buoyed by Butterfly Child visionary Joe Cassidy's lush string arrangements on songs such as "Diamonds Eat Diamonds" and "Magnificent Wing," which often help the music rise to gorgeous heights. While most of the album falls in line with sweeping tracks like "The Long Weekend," songs such as "Blue Hooray," "Julie Delpy," and "London Fields" capably emulate pithy, acoustic-guitar-driven Bowie-pop. Connelly's concurrent work in The Damage Manual reveals that he still likes to scream on occasion, but a new collaboration with fellow industrial-rock refugee Bill Rieflin shows that Connelly's tastes increasingly veer toward the quiet zone. Rieflin's own art-rock answer to his drumming days in Ministry and RevCo, the impressive Robert Fripp-adorned Birth Of A Giant, was one of 1999's most pleasant surprises, and the new Largo similarly reveals new sides of Rieflin and longtime friend Connelly. An album of spare piano ballads that would serve as an ideal (albeit depressing) soundtrack to an evening of relaxation and reminiscences, the album primarily features Rieflin on keyboards while Connelly plays the crooner. A pair of ringer covers by conspicuously moody songwriters, John Cale's "Close Watch" and Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song," give a hint as to what Rieflin and Connelly are trying to achieve, and for the most part, Largo's somber originals hit their target. The long title track lays Connelly's hushed singing atop spare orchestral arrangements, while the equally somber ruminations of "Pray'r" and "The Call Girls" find Rieflin, Connelly, and a few friends augmenting the songs with subtle and simple drum machines, piano, upright bass, and strings. A few shorter experiments are scattered throughout the disc, as well, but all fit the heavy, late-night lounge mold. Largo is a minor effort, to be sure, but it's lovely, and in light of Connelly and Rieflin's past cacophonies, that's an achievement in and of itself.


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