Giant Sand Chore of Enchantment

Chore of Enchantment is one of those rare album titles that perfectly encapsulate the artist behind it, although some might also make the argument for Giant Sand's 1994 album, Glum. Giant Sand leader Howe Gelb has perhaps the most ass-backwards charisma in (not so) popular music today, never so compelling as when he seems most disengaged from the song or sounds most like he's singing to himself or muttering in his sleep. The spell he casts, though, is cloaked in the mundane, and as usual for Giant Sand, there's a strong element of disenchantment even as the music meanders into slightly fantastical realms. Never one to follow his road maps too closely, Gelb has masterminded perhaps his strangest and one of his most captivating albums to date, one that was thankfully rescued from the dustbin when the V2 label, which was originally set to release it last year, dropped it from its plans. Hearing Chore of Enchantment is like chancing upon an enchanted radio, crackling with distant melodies and Gelb's disaffected croaks, haunted by ghosts of faintly remembered music. Wisps of folk, chunks of country and shards of alt-rock shamble through, but none stake any claims over the music, leaving it a bit of a generic muddle, which is fine with me. There's also a new inflection in Gelb's voice, a weariness tinged with the most muted sense of urgency - as usual, it sounds like Gelb is struggling to stay awake, if not interested, but the difference now is that you really hear the struggle. He may strike the listener as a taciturn drifter, but this time out, it's a mask for real emoting, and that mask is usually slightly askew. (Thrill Jockey)