By Chris Pacifico

Over the past four years or so, punk rock's good name has been soiled by the stigma brought on by such subgenres as emo, screamo, and just about any other sound that rakes in the big bucks at MTV2 or your local Hot Topic franchise from bands whose lead singer still whines about being dumped by his 9th Grade girlfriend. In Bocca al Lupo (Italian for "in the mouth of the wolf") on the other hand is a refreshing, shudder-inducing treat from Bloomington, Indiana's Murder by Death on an album in which all of the tracks revolve around the themes of sin, punishment, and redemption as this quartet gives punk rock a tepid shell of Americana noir led by the mesquite-smoked voice of singer/guitarist Adam Turla and Sarah Balliet's hair-raising cello.

Be it the mountain stomp of "One More Notch," Gaelic-tinged ditties such as "Dead Men and Sinners," or the down-home dark blues of "Brother," In Bocca al Lupo is tantamount to being in the midst of a creepy road trip on a cat-and-mouse chase through America's desolate frontier as you are the prey and don't really know who is chasing you, which is really what can embolden the album's sometimes paranoid aura. On the sludgy "Dynamite Mine," every step that drummer Alex Schrodt takes on his bass drum is like a jolt of ice that rushes through the listener's veins.

While not coming off as "gothic" per se, Murder by Death may appeal to your black nail polish-donning and pale-faced friend as the band's knack for old timey rustic folk and lethargic tempos has a storm cloud brewing atop. Turla's weather-beaten and haggard voice and wrangling and elastic twang guitar make it easier to delve into the tales he tells with each track.

In Bocca al Lupo is also sprinkled with horn arrangements, which makes for a state of the impending and gloomy uncertainty from a climatic scene of an Ennio Morricone-scored spaghetti western film. So whether you seek an album that merges organic music that reflects and evokes the semblance of the dark, seedy underside of everyman or are curious to know what test tube bastard children with the genes of Bob Weir and Nick Cave would sound like, In Bocca al Lupo should be right up your alley.

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[Published on: 9/14/06]

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