Dead Rider Credit: courtesy the artist

The unctuous lounge-lizard croon that marks the singing of Dead Rider’s Todd Rittman has started to fray on the group’s fantastic new album, Crew Licks (Drag City), as if to suggest that his sinister shadiness is getting tangled within his own web of deceit. As usual, it’s often difficult to know exactly what he’s going on about, and when there’s some relatively clear idea at work it’s unsavory: “The Listing” seems to be about some kind of desperation-driven prostitution (replete with samples of an auctioneer at full tilt), while on “When I Was Frankenstein’s” the narrator boasts about carrying a feathery umbrella and wearing a fine cap despite being a monster. Rittman’s lyrics often feel like cut-ups—albeit cut-ups that sound great—such as when he sings “You’re a real snare strainer / Air complainer” on the opening track, “Grand Mal Blues.” On a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Ramble on Rose” he sounds like David Bowie at his most strung out, slinking creepily alongside skittering, lurching drum machines, ominous ambient guitar, and polished backing vocals by sometime collaborator Andrea Faught. Each of the group’s releases has featured offers slick, inventive production. Crew Licks is no exception; its production serves to highlight its queasy hard-rock guitar solos that curdle within the sultry grooves of a tune like “The Floating Dagger”—which sounds like the remnants of an alley brawl between old-school Steely Dan and the Rolling Stones. Few bands in recent memory have so effectively repurposed conventions of both classic rock and radio-friendly dance-rock into sounds that could induce nausea or seem refined. When the band—whose core also includes drummer Matthew Espy and bassist John Samson—plays live, the various disparities are only gloriously magnified.   v