The music on Dyed in the Wool, Shannon Wright's new album, is some of the loveliest stuff you're likely to hear all year. Decidedly and loudly not blues-based, it seeks out intervals more common in modern "classical" music than on rock records, orchestrating its experimental set pieces with a chamber-music-for-Slint-fans schematic: here a viola, there a cello, here a piano battling with a snare and cymbal. Some of Wright's guests here are old hands at this sort of thing. They come from various Chicago/Louisville mainstays, such as June of 44 and the dreadfully named Rachel's, bands that have made a point of distancing themselves from traditional rock presentation in favor of a sort of pre-World War I Continental-salon feel for their experiments in volume and tempo. Musically, though, Wright has them all trumped. Her feel for texture is almost inhumanly fine, and her sheer instrumental skill (she's credited here with piano, guitar, harmonium, organ, bass, noises, keyboards, vocals and drums) is impressive but not gaudy or showy. When her skills and her ear join forces and she opts for a jagged, dissonant guitar attack at the climax of the title track, the result is positively devastating and hard to forget. When it's a smoother feel she wants, she comes up with the rolling acoustic-guitar waves and sustained vocal notes of "The Path of Least Persistence (Figure II)," a lush, restrained rock song from an alternate version of history.
But keen observers will have noticed the title of that last one, and there's the catch. Wright's lyrics are truly horrible. Their it-means-what-you-want-it-to-mean impressionism will strain even the most generous reader's patience. Occasionally she'll even force a word to bear the wrong stress to make it fit the line ("racket" becomes "raquette" in one memorable, incomprehensible, unbearable moment), and at such moments it's hard -- no, impossible -- not to wince. Of course, it's patently the case that nobody cares about this sort of thing anymore. It's just a critic's job to point out when an album that's just short of great comes up wanting because of the lyrics. This aside, though, Dyed in the Wool sounds better than most things out there. Leave the booklet in the CD case, and you'll be just fine.