Local queer psychedelic orchestra band Glad Rags' second full-length album, Wonder Under, is an eclectic and weird ride in all the best ways.
Although bringing to mind Tom Waits, with rich vocals graveling over horn and string crescendos ( an influence that peaks in "The World Is Waiting" ), Glad Rags shows that its true strength is in its synthesis of style variety. "Ode to a Dandelion" is a reflective, slowed down jazz lounge song capped with a powerful orchestral upsweep, while "Tick Tock" creates an echoing, cavernous, synth-led spacey vibe. "Alamo" is pure '80s synth-and-sax dance-pop that somehow both stands out from the rest of the album, while fitting in perfectly.
Frontperson Glad Matt's voice modulates from coy susurration, to grit and spit, to deadpan, to ponderous with the same wide range as their instrumentation, so that not only do no two songs sound alike, but neither are they sung the same. Other primary vocalist Maryann Michael commands "Ode to a Dandelion" with grace, and duets in powerful counterpoint to Glad Matt's grumbles in "The World Is Waiting."
The instrumental "Social Kapital" opens with jamming synths before slowing down and switching over to horns and strings: a progression from digital euphoria to a quirky, grinding analog dread.
This eclecticism could run the risk of making the album sporadic, but Glad Rags plays tight and with confidence and trust, creating grandiosity through sheer variety. Standard mainstays like guitar, keyboard and synth are present, but expect to hear everything from cello and violin to banjo, trombone and tabla drums, so that even after numerous listens, each song holds fresh surprises.
Lyrically, the band explores misperceived identity, which helps provide a constant thread. "U Think U" contains the refrain "You think you know me/You don't know me at all," concluding with: "You don't know anybody until you talk to someone." "Tick Tock" pleas for us to "Take a good look in the eyes of somebody." "Alamo" criticizes the commodification of the darker side of history with the refrain: "Take a trip to the Alamo/Take a picture there." ( Those are a couple lines that will be in your head all day. )
Wonder Under is full of surprisesa pleasing, richly layered effort from one of Chicago's most promising queer bands.
For more information on Glad Rags, visit GladRagsMusic.com .