Cut Worms Credit: Joyce Lee

Under the name Cut Worms, Max Clarke conjures deeply nostalgic, comforting sounds and bygone eras, evoking the sweet close-harmony singing of the Everly Brothers and the irresistible Merseybeat hooks of early Beatles. While the surface of his tunes on the recent Hollow Ground (Jagjaguwar) appear ripe for joyful sing-alongs, the words that fall out of his mouth in catchy, hypertuneful bunches convey a darkness at odds with the warmth of his vintage pop touch. On “Coward’s Confidence” he lays down sparkling keyboards that conjure the lighthearted atmosphere of a summer carnival and overdubs doo-wop-style harmonies that underline the swaying bass line as he reveals that his giddiness derives from a codependent relationship. “It Won’t Be Too Long” is slathered with woozy pedal-steel embellishments from guest musician Jon “Catfish” Delorme and clanking tack-piano chords, over which Clarke sings “It won’t be too long before we’re free” without ever mentioning just what is holding he and his lover back. The gently sashaying “Till Tomorrow Goes Away” gets more somber; a narrator who seems on the verge of drinking himself into oblivion (if not death) implores his listener, “If I’m taken by the night / Tell my ma I did all right.” Clarke is an auteur; with the exception of drums he played just about everything on the album. While the fetishism for the pop music of a more innocent time can be cloying, Clarke’s emotional gloom has a way of leavening that sweetness with some real acid.   v