Twisted cabaret, circus roots, garbage waltzes: The novelty is gone, and this is a good thing. Now the style recedes, becomes one option and set of (p)references among many, as valid and as ordinary as any other.
Peter Gabriel once said that when he dove headlong into world music, one effect was the temporary disabling of his standards and his faculties of taste. Everything that he heard hit him with an alien, arresting freshness and he had no foundation or authority for rating and judgment and sorting, though he did develop them eventually. That’s where we’re at now with the old trash genre: It’s familiar and accepted now, and thus rises or falls on its other qualities.
Northampton’s Wishbone Zoe title their/her new album All These Oddities, and while the collection does careen between charming klutz-waltzes, oompah (lots of oompah!), uncategorizable bits of trash art and the rural surreal, it is really not that odd at all to the weathered old ears of contemporary indie folk. This terrain is mapped. Here there be monsters, and here dragons. All These Oddities, however, is a thoroughly wonderful record for other reasons entirely.
Wishbone Zoe may not or may not know the extent to which their/her style matrix can be traced back to Tom Waits’s late ’80s and early ’90s albums, his peculiar fusion of deep Americana, nightmare circus, Kurt Weill and the anthropological production values that Waits learned to love on Library of Congress recordings. It’s irrelevant, though. It is now officially okay for anything to sound this way, but no longer inherently heightened or special.
Wishbone Zoe earn it in the song-to-song distinction and brilliance of this record. The album leads, in classic indie contrarian form, with its most unsettled and asymmetrical track: the detuned kalimba-powered “Agatha.” Cutting the barnyard waltzes (“Greatest Show in Town”) and droning rural myths (“Barefoot Girl,” “Lullaby for Olga”) are several bracing and inventive rockers (“Windy City,” “Garbage Disposal Kid”) to keep your ears on their toes (and to help this stuff play in the bars and clubs, too).
Finally, what impress most about All These Oddities are not its panoply of quirks and its log of time travels, but its fastidious and committed approach to the singularity and otherworldliness of each song. And that forces me to ask yet again: What the hell is going on with all this smart, musically deep and imaginatively produced Pioneer Valley, Five-Schools indie folk and indie rock? Home Body, And the Kids, Speedy Ortiz, Huckleberry Binge and now Wishbone Zoe. Northampton and environs have been issued a National Scene Alert.