Angel or Demon?
Minneapolis-native Arthur Phillips explores the insanity of family life in Angelica, a superlative ghost story set in disease-ridden Victorian London (Random House, $25.95). A naïve “counter jumper” spurred by a shady spiritualist demonizes her husband, a vivisectionist who may be harming their 4-year-old daughter (the title character). The marital rift escalates along with her fears and ours, as Phillips examines the nature of race, class, gender, and desire. It’s “a Venice of a life,” he observes, “sinking fast.” Four distinct viewpoints, seen in succession, result in shifting perspectives and loyalties—and ultimately, a refusal to “sate [our] childish appetite for conclusions.” Truth, like love, is elusive.
The bestselling author of Prague and The Egyptologist offers the ï¬rst great cabin read of the year—a beautifully written, haunting thriller that will have you fixating on every creak in the ï¬‚oorboards. —CAROL RATELLE LEACH
Drums and Guns (Sub Pop)
In May 2005, Low frontman Alan Sparhawk went public with his struggle with multiple mood disorders. Whether it’s due to analysis, recent charity missions in Kenya, or time alone working on an instrumental solo album, Sparhawk sounds more sure than ever on this outing with longtime partner Mimi Parker and new bassist Matt Livingstone. They explore the worldwide hunger for violence and love, while holding out a slim hope for peace. It’s a musical triumph about devastating losses.
The acclaimed Duluth-based trio uses the same producer as on The Great Destroyer, but Drums and Guns bears little resemblance to that more rockin’ CD. This bold yet spare breakthrough puts the probing lyrics front and center for chilling effect and deep examination. Light electronica, ringing piano, weeping keyboards, and gentle guitar textures are mere mood lighting for the group’s most extraordinary vocal harmonies ever on record. It’s Low like they were, yet totally new. Many song titles read like a world atlas of unresolved conflicts, from Eastern Europe to our own music scene, that seem to put faith and future existence all into question. A 41-minute album to think about for the next year, or the next thousand.