At first listen it’s tempting to categorize Wasted Wine along with all other baroque pop bands. They’ve got the harrowing accordion, booming minimal waltz percussion, and a dominant Balkan-inspired string section. They’ve got lead vocals that range in style, from a Tom Waits bark to a Honus Honus croon to a clear, Colin Meloy-style storytelling voice. They’ve got Brechtian storylines to boot, ghoulish drinking songs about drug addictions, murderous lovers and broken gutter-dreams. They use all this well, and this album is an engrossing transport to a world sinister and fantastic.

However, it’s around the edges that this New York outfit (originally from Taylors, SC) sets themselves apart from their analogs with Wasted Wine Vs. The Hypnosis Center. The album opens with a monotone recording under a ticking clock sound that begins a hypnosis storyline, situating the album as a trip inside of an entranced mind. The tracks are permeated with noisy dream interludes of spooky mind-control messaging, providing a unique grounding for the familiar baroque themes.

This album shines in its meticulous construction. The backing instrumentation is subtly composed, featuring intricate bell lines, expertly played theremin and vexing musical saw, all accompanied by some of the most tasteful accordion in the genre. Whenever you think you’ve figured out the musical parameters, something proves you wrong. Opener “Fall On Me” begins with a forlorn violin duet, only to turn into singsong minuet that settles, then explodes out of nowhere into a wailing guitar crescendo. Comic break “MFR” provides a full tone shift with catchy lyrics and satisfying folk guitar. Late album standout “I Told You” transitions from an accordion-led verse into a merciless prog rock guitar chorus, only to dissolve into washy guitar and staccato violin. Listeners quickly learn that any attempt to predict is futile.

Wasted Wine Vs. The Hypnosis Center strikes an improbable balance, managing to be always daring yet rarely garish. Lyrically compelling and subtly genre defying, I recommend it to anyone willing to dive into its world.

In A Word: Engrossing

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