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Cipher [Slipcase]
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  • Slim Cessna's Auto Club, the country-punk band who've been spreading their gospel of tongue-in-cheek hellfire since the early '90s, return to Alternative Tentacles for their fifth studio full-length, Cipher. As per usual, the album is a kind of puritanical sermon on good and evil, God and the Devil, combined with a Western lawlessness that can be nearly chilling at times. Slim's the main singer here, his half-crazed voice like one of a man who's been pushed too far one too many times, leading the way through the songs of sin and condemnation, women and whiskey, with only a very few hints at redemption. Slim's god is a vengeful one, as ready to punish as he is save. The momentously creepy "Jesus Is in My Body: My Body Has Let Me Down" tells the story of a destructive apocalypse, while "Everyone Is Guilty #2" goes from asking to open for Jesus ("your name still would draw a crowd/It would help our careers if we could warm up your show") to a menacing break in which the vocalist drawls out accusations and demands that Jesus take responsibility for them. The band doesn't let anyone else off the hook, either, naming, in the recurring "Introduction to the Power of Braces," the ways in which their own faith has bent and how they will attempt to straighten it, or listing off specific sinners -- themselves included -- in "Children of the Lord." The Auto Club play with familiar themes, like their take on Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" (itself a borrowed melody), called "This Land Is Our Land Redux," a near-violent demand to take back the country from what it's become, while the aforementioned "Children of the Lord" plays off the Sunday school song "Rise and Shine." There's a dark liveliness, a rebelliousness to the music, one that Slim Cessna has always exhibited, shown not only in the lyrics and vocal inflection but in the instrumentation, which is sprawling and tight at the same time, electric and acoustic, and the entire effect of which is absolutely captivating. ~ Marisa Brown
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