The commercial sheen and meticulously produced sound of Dead Rider
’s third album, Chills on Glass
(Drag City), heightens the tension that’s driven this eel-slippery band since guitarist Todd Rittman launched it five years ago. His oily persona and even creepier falsetto complement the music’s slick surfaces, even as they play against the band’s twisted, elastic grooves and densely detailed arrangements. His singing often oversells itself—he’s like a hard-drinking used-car salesman covering up the stink of booze on his breath with chewing gum and hiding the filth in his hair with pomade. On the new album he alternates between Berlin-era David Bowie and disco-era Mick Jagger, but his warped, elliptic lyrics could pass for scraps of William S. Burroughs cut-ups. “New Eyes”
sounds like an 80s funk-rock relic that’s been distended and diced up with a digital mixing board, and “Grip Sex Enemy”
features a lurching hard-rock beat and fractured post-Captain Beefheart guitar reminiscent of Rittman’s playing in U.S. Maple
. The instrumental “Four Cocks” acts as a palate cleanser—it opens with a synthesized industrial-disco pulse amid vinyl surface noise, seeming to threaten violence that never arrives. Rittman’s bandmates—drummer Matthew Espy and multi-instrumentalists Andrea Faught and Thymme Jones, who mostly play a variety of synths and brass—never settle into the same feel for long either, constantly shifting their mix of hard-hitting rhythms, woozy keyboards, and lounge-lizard horn accents. No matter the changes it goes through, though, the music always maintains its tug-of-war between unctuous smoothness and ominous chaos. If there’s a better art-rock band at work today, please tell me who it is. —Peter Margasak Nick Butcher & Mike Bingaman open.