Mark Growden Downstairs Karaoke

Growden, a San Francisco Bay Area eccentric, sums up many of our thoughts when he croons: “Sometimes I feel like a piece of red meat/precariously placed on a conspicuous plate/in the middle of a table at a potluck for a bunch of young vegans.” On Downstairs Karaoke, he concocts a pre-millennial cabaret that’s infinitely rewarding, even when it hits the occasional speed bump. “I’m going to take my time,” he claims on a song of the same name, and does so for an eight-minute acoustic blues junkyard jam that wouldn’t be out of place on Tom Waits’s Mule Variations. Growden likes to accompany his quirky songs on the usual smorgasbord of tools: xylophones, every imaginable woodwind and brass instrument, tabla, pipe caps and an ubiquitous banjo; only five of the 14 tracks feature a guitar. The songwriting spans fractured waltzes, dark desert polkas, relatively straightforward country ballads (“You can’t kill time with a shotgun/but you can try”) and the similar psychedelic pomo-blues-folk that Neutral Milk Hotel attempts, not nearly as successfully, as Growden. Fans of boundless, playful genre-jumping weirdoes are well-advised to seek out this stunning— and beautifully packaged — release. (Wiggle Biscuit)