STEVE WINE Associated Press
“A Filament in the Wilderness of What Comes Next,” Chris Robley (Cutthroat Pop Records)
Chris Robley’s music is beautiful when it’s angry.
The Maine-based singer songwriter bemoans the state of the nation on “A Filament in the Wilderness of What Comes Next,” a seven-song collage of characters vexed and perplexed by a society in decline.
Robley’s weighty words — he’s an award-winning poet — are made even more pow- erful because they’re paired
with equally engrossing melodies. It makes for the loveliest kind of blues regard- ing disparity, hypocrisy, racism and American retreat in a foreign land.
As a testament to Robley’s craftsmanship, the two longest songs are the best. The album opens with “American Dreams,” a 7- minute survey of the coun- try’s contradictions, and clos- es with “Filament,” an even longer lament. The two songs serve as towering bookends, and on each lead vocal, Robley takes turns with Anna Tivel and Margaret Gibson Wehr, a democratic decision that fits the narrative.
Robley varies the arrange- ments in other ways as well. There’s anguished electric guitar, skronky free-jazz saxo- phone and robotic blips and bleeps. The ballad “Sandra” rides a mournful string sec- tion, and “Love Is a Four- Letter Word” counters with a bouncy beat driven by acoustic guitar, while the final cut is built on a synth riff.
Throughout, Robley’s way with a tune is a giver of goosebumps. The melodies are as effortlessly irresistible as an old folk song, the sort sung when the stakes are high, such as “We Shall Overcome.” Robley’s music asks: Can we overcome?