The Chicago band Red Red Meat has never been predictable, but There's A Star Above The Manger Tonight is its least conventional record yet. You want acoustic, low-fidelity, harmony-intensive Americana? Try the title track. Looking for oddly gothic country? Listen to the haunting "Bury Me." How about instrumentals that are at once rambling, baffling, gurgling and shrill? There's "Paul Pachal," "Just Like An Egg On Stilts," and the screeching bonus track. There's A Star meanders and twists around, never settling for simple rock arrangements—and if all that sounds unlistenably obtuse, the strange thing is that it isn't: For every whacked-out moment, there's a moment of ecstatic, Palace-esque beauty: "Quarter Horses (B-Slow)" and especially "Second Hand Sea" are probably Red Red Meat's most beautiful songs to date. It may take one run through to get what the band is trying to do here, but the investment is well worth it.
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