Tales from a haunted heart?

Rated Yes
Slackshop (Microdot Recordings)

By Kevin Gibson

Once in a while a band creates something both accessible and experimental, and so it is that Slackshop's new release is at once the easy grin of Carl Perkins and the disgusted scowl of Nirvana.

Perhaps it is easy to say that Rated Yes is a work of dark pop, but that doesn't quite cover it. When you hear front man Billy Bartley cruising through the unwavering "On and On," the instinct is to relax and enjoy the ride this Louisville band promises to take you on. But the journey is only beginning.

In truth, Bartley is a well-known aural retentive and, while his obsession with detail is evident here, calculated songs like "Keep on the Wire" seem at first to merely roll along like a never-ending assembly line.

But the haunting nature of the tune becomes more and more evident with repeated listening. There seems to be the slightest sound of wind blowing restlessly in the background through parts of the chorus. Is it there? Or is it just the mood the song creates that makes it [italics]seem[end ital] like it's there?

"To Touch You" carries on this mood-manipulation exercise, taking the term "haunting" just a little farther, stretching its hands toward chilling or even sinister. Bartley's yearning vocal is reminiscent of Bono as he pleads, "I can't seem to break through / Can't seem to touch you / Can't be drawn in two / Can't feel to touch you." By the time the song fades out, you're turning on every light in the house for comfort.

The ghostly, swirling "Sweet Apathy" leads the listener down yet more paths of dark emotion, and "Where You Are" is a positively gut-wrenching tale of longing that brings to mind Josh Rouse at his emotive best.

Once you reach "Home," the album's final song, you realize that you truly must devour [italics]all[end ital] these songs as a unit before can you fully appreciate the sweat and pain and blood they're made of as individual components. After you've walked this journey in Slackshop's shoes, only then can you ultimately understand what it was that eventually came out on the other end of that assembly line.