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Passage, the first full-length album from Brooklyn's Exitmusic, is a dark, sludgy beast of a record that slithers before it strikes. It broods and rumbles, full of anger and anguish and loneliness, before erupting in a squall of tortured release. It's mostly bleak and intensely emotional, but also beautiful.
Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church, the married performers behind Exitmusic, offer little hope in these meditations on grief and heartache — what's wrong, guys? — but they make their strange world of sound alluring enough to be enjoyable. They pull it off with a simple but potent formula built around stark contrasts: Palladino's voice is both creepy and seductive. It floats elegantly in an otherwise crude and densely layered sea of guitar noise. Simple, spare beats hold chaotic soundscapes together while delicate melodies tell troubled tales. The songs are gorgeous and gruesome, soaring and sad, glittering dreams and haunting nightmares.
Palladino and Church began writing songs together after meeting in New York several years ago. Church had just returned from teaching English in India and Taiwan, while Palladino was already an accomplished actress, appearing in Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Todd Solondz's Storytelling, among many other films. (Most recently, she's played Angela Darmody, a key character in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.) But nothing in her screen roles has even hinted at the stunning voice she possesses. In Exitmusic, she wields it like a fine but powerful instrument, finessing it with incredible nuance.
Passage, out May 22, isn't the most uplifting record you'll hear this year. Its brightest spot, "The Night," finds Palladino rallying just enough to sing, "My aim is slightly high in the silent night" and "It's only a dream, and the dreamer is bound to awake." In the world of Exitmusic, those qualify as affirmations. But even (or perhaps especially) in its bleakest moments, Passage is one the most memorable and absorbing records you'll hear in 2012.