Danny Cohen spent decades as a cult favorite, releasing only privately circulated tapes. But the singer-songwriter has been making up for lost time. Shades is his third Anti- release since 2004, picking up where 2005's We're All Gunna Die left off -- with an emphasis on despondent ballads and doom-and-gloom dirges. The average tempo here lies somewhere between a lope and a crawl, but the wonderful junk-shop arrangements -- full of woozy organ, with touches of violin, saw, xylophone, and various horns -- keep things sonically varied.
Technically, Cohen isn't much of a singer, but he's effective at channeling the multiple personalities his songs call for. His lyrics, meanwhile, are pure poetry -- alternately funny and depressing, moving and unsettling. Backed by what sounds like a drunken Dixieland horn section at 16 rpm, the humorous "Prayer in the Black and White" offers prayers to Eisenhower, Leave It to Beaver, and The Andy Griffith Show. But "Rigormortis (On the Ridge)" is more representative. An ode to his retirement community -- where "pinochle is a religion every Wednesday night" -- it's the most haunting song to reference both "mucous trails" and "frozen entrees" in the same verse. And that's high praise.