Empathy for the Evil (M’lady’s)
Mecca Normal is known for its stripped-down, one-vocalist (Jean Smith) and one-guitarist (David Lester) approach, but for Empathy for the Evil, the band’s 13th album, it’s gained both a bassist and producer: Kramer, famed for his contributions to the NY–based Shimmy Disc label and legendarily trippy bands like Shockabilly and the also-female-fronted band Bongwater.
While Empathy for the Evil is hardly a piece of neo-psychedelia, Kramer does make his mark, particularly on the trance-inducing, texturally rich 10-minute-long “Between Livermore and Tracy”. But even with an expanded sonic palette, this is still very much a Mecca Normal album, based around two novels written by Smith, whose lyrics at times are more sung prose than poetry. One (The Black Dot Museum of Political Art) is about two painters from different class backgrounds who come together based on a passion for hiking and landscapes. Their story, “Art Was the Great Leveler”, begins the album.
The other novel, Obliterating History (subtitled a guitar-making mystery, domination & submission in a small town garage), informs the most powerful track on the album, “Wasn’t Said”, a sorrowful attempt to escape the now by referencing some future time when “none of this will matter.” It’s a sad but honest bit of psychologizing, and Kramer’s organ makes it all the more haunting.
This is a thoughtful, moving, and reflective album completely out of step with anything in commercial music—which is, of course, a good thing.