Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Linda Good's new album, "Love Is a Curious Thing," caresses a panoply of musical modes: sparkly pop, surfy rock, wistful balladry, nervy electronica, minimalist new-wave, Latin jazz and plenty more. But its primary palette is a glossy shade of noir.
Virtually every song conjures the foreboding and mystery one might encounter in a classic pulp novel or beguiling black-and-white detective flick. This enticing, dangerous atmosphere — with its distinct undercurrent of melancholy — suits Good's sweetly aching voice (and cinematic compositional instincts) perfectly.
Witness "A Dog Is a Dog," a jaded view of a relationship foiled by beastly character flaws; its elegant waltz form and weary piano-bar delivery sharpen the irony of Good's reproachful lyrics and suffuse them with sorrow. Had she matched the song's withering words to a modern-rock structure, it would seem merely clever. As a torch song, however, it both heightens the sense of betrayal and allows the vulnerability beneath the dog-dissing digs to shine through. Or consider "Drowning," with its menacing riff and woozy refrain, in which the sting of abandonment recalls a Raymond Chandler protagonist who's been seduced, double-crossed and left for dead.
"Foolproof" evokes the risky, intoxicated allure of an assignation, as Good's breathy vocal swirls around a symphonic groove. "Another Alien" paints a corrupt world with purring, plaintive keyboard textures that suggest the earliest work of art-rockers Roxy Music. And on the title track, spy-movie guitars, sputtering synthesizers and bossa nova beats wrap themselves around Good's boudoir musings like the Serpent in the Garden. (It should be noted that Good populates her Garden with her own piano, Mellotron, Clavinet, synth, guitar, bass, percussion, drum programming and arrangements, and serves as producer; guest players include drummers Pete McNeal [Cake, Mike Doughty] and Brian Young [Fountains of Wayne, the Posies], bassist Marc Doten [Double Naught Spy Car, I See Hawks in L.A.], utility horn player Probyn Gregory [Brian Wilson, Wondermints], vocal duo the Submarines and Good's twin sister, Laura, with whom she sings and plays in the highly regarded pop duo the Twigs.)
Spy-movie guitars, sputtering synthesizers and bossa nova beats wrap themselves around Good's boudoir musings like the Serpent in the Garden.More overtly pop outings, such as "Overboard," the duet "Bullseye" (featuring vocalist Chris Trapper of the Push Stars) and "Parachute," will certainly appeal to fans of Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor and other sophisticated chanteuses. But Good's artful juxtaposition of major and minor keys, slightly mocking right-hand filigrees and swooning backups perennially push the proceedings into the dusky world of noir, where something frightening or unsavory persistently lurks at the edge of the frame. Even the tender, pulsing rocker "Wherever I Go" displays a manic, slightly anxious energy in its chorus hook, as though radio-pop romance itself is a forbidding portal.
There are exceptions, to be sure (such as the funky bounce and worldly philosophizing of "Life Is a Ride," co-written with McNeal), but "Love Is a Curious Thing" is at its most potent in the jet-black register of romantic misadventure, with its lurching forays into unsafe places, its bitter, morning-after realizations, its fevered trysts and cold-blooded vendettas, all duplicitously delicious. Here's hoping there are many sequels to come.