Transmissionary Six have five star musical credentials.They are duo of Terri Moeller and Paul Austin. Theirrespective careers as drummer of The Walkabouts andguitarist/songwriter of The Willard Grant Conspiracy mark them out asalt.country royalty. Radar is their fourth LP and it’s an object lessonin the genre.
Aided and abetted by various supplementary musicians the pairhave produced an intoxicating blend of country noir and indie popfiltered through 1950s production values. This is Nick Cave andThe Handsome Family playing poker and drinking moonshine in acrumbling hotel. Moeller’s vocals are bruised and whisky soaked,Lucinda Williams if she had been raised on Sonic Youth.Paul Austin has touches of Grant Lee Philips and RichmondFontaine‘s Willy Vlantin romantic ache. The music swirls intrembling vapour trails. Brooding, full of taunting echo’s ofheartbreak and life on the wrong side of the tracks.
The bass note that opens the LP goes off like a back porchshotgun. A suitably ominous beginning to In Spades. The rumbling bowedpiano and Austin’s reverb drenched vocals creep under your skin. Theguitar solo is blackened and thorny, imagine Neil Young if hejoined The Bad Seeds. It’s tense and full of apprehension. Thefollowing Radar rattles past on power pop drums and bassline thatsounds like the Stooges on a hoedown. The whole LP is wrapped upin a warm fug of gentle distortion and slap back echo – Sun Studio givenan alt.country twist.
The subject matter could easily become morbid or melodramatic.Yet this is a lighter listen than it may appear. The melodies are sostrong and the vocals so heartfelt that you are lost inside the worldthat Transmissionary Six have created. It’s the happier countrycousin to Richmond Fontaine’s The Fitzgerald. There is hope amongst theheartbreak and petty criminality. The bad have allowed the songs todraw breath and then release a sudden sigh. The instrumental coda,twanging guitars and weeping pedal stee, that closes the final trackBye Bye Blackbird curl like smoke rings around a fireplace on a winterevening.
Although they are masters of the form, the band are not afraid toexperiment with it limits. That Wednesday brakes the alt.countrymusical mould. An ambient/country hybrid, all shimmering floatingelectronics and Bye shining acoustic guitars. The electronic noise andAustin’s vocal nestle perfectly in the mix.
To weave such dazzling magic as the band do here from a standardmusical palette is testament to their skill as songwriters andarrangers. The bright piano and distorted guitar of When Rowan andMartin Saved The Day or the transparent organ chords and dry acousticsof Broker both lodge themselves into my memory on a single listen. LetTransmissionary Six add some dark drama to your day.