Lyricist Rennie Sparks found inspiration for this album from 1990s inventor Nicola Tesla, whose encounters with electrical power moved him to retreat from modern life. One line in “Tesla’s Hotel Room” suggests a space where the Handsome Family makes music: “In the last days of wonder/When spirits still flew/Where we sat holding hands/In the half-darkened room.”
From this half-darkened room come Brett Sparks’ vintage soundscapes and Rennie’s magical realism, twisted together in tunes that are both past and present, literary and carnal. Here, people negotiate the power of nature and human technologies on earth and in the afterlife. Old-time music’s dark view of human existence fuels the album; life is imperfect, bones get broken, but people survive. In this world, termites whisper, Tesla nurses sick pigeons, planes crash, and people dance on golf courses in grass-stained underwear.
The sound is as vast as the title, from the eerie but gentle textures of saw, pedal steel and bowed wine glasses to the surreal patches of electronic rock and mellotron voices. As always, guitar, banjo and Brett’s baritone provide the band’s old-time acoustic backbone. Their irresistible musical carnival is as creepy, and deliciously distinct, as ever.