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Murder by Death flees complete morbidity by releasing its cheeriest yet in 'Good Morning, Magpie'



Murder by Death with Ha Ha Tonka and Linfinity
9 p.m. Wednesday
The Conservatory
8911 N. Western
$13 advance, $15 door

Murder by Death's first four albums are consumed with ideas of lust, sin, vengeance, death and redemption.

The Indiana quartet is like a fiery Pentecostal sermon that uses brimstone to explore the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Singer Adam Turla's husky croon alone is deep enough to be born in the depths of hell, which adds to iconography that figures prominently in his band's dark, haunted tales.

The group has grown more assured through each of its four discs " abetted by a couple of lineup changes " and gathered strength like a tropical depression about to swirl into a full-blown hurricane.

It's been a busy year for Murder by Death, which recorded an instrumental soundtrack for Jeff VanderMeer's novel "Finch," has seen a song from 2008's "Red of Tooth and Claw" featured in a Harley-Davidson commercial, the TV series "Sons of Anarchy" and the "Inglourious Basterds" trailer; and finished up its fifth album, "Good Morning, Magpie," which was released just last week.

The record is a bit different from prior releases. It's more personal, less ominous and adds more major-chord melodies. The songs are still awfully moody, but just like with the book soundtrack, the members felt a need to keep pushing themselves. There's even an attempt at a love song.

"It's pretty varied in sound, which is, in my opinion, its strength," Turla said. "I don't want to do a 180 " I want to do 90-degree turns. I want people to listen to it and say, 'It's different, but I still like it.'"

The musicians' sense of adventure is what attracted them to "Finch." VanderMeer, an accomplished fantasy/ sci-fi author, contacted the band and said he'd been listening to almost nothing but their music while writing the bizarre detective novel. They worked from its scenes to create music that evoked that mood. It was a rewarding experience that Turla said influenced the sonic bedrock of "Magpie."

Murder originally formed in 2000, in Bloomington, Ind., where many of the members were attending college. Initially a quintet known as Little Joe Gould, the act changed its name before 2002's full-length debut, "Like The Exorcist, but More Breakdancing." By 2003's "Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them?" the band settled into more of the parched alt-country sound it's become known for.

The departure of pianist Vincent Edwards led to a more dynamic, harrowing sound for 2006's "In Bocca Al Lupo," which was inspired by "Dante's Inferno," but the biggest difference was Turla, who took some voice les- sons in 2004. His deeper vocal transformation culminated with "Red of Tooth and Claw," which traces the path of an "brutally naive tough kid" who learns as he matures.

Most "Magpie" songs are new and were written while Turla secluded himself for two weeks in the Great Smoky Mountains. Isolated, even without his guitar (which he apparently left in the car), he created melodies and scribbled prose lyrics. The result is more intimate and personal.

"With this record, I was writing more first-person songs," he said. "Of course, there are parts of me in all of the characters that appear in the sort of the more fictional works. But in a way, I think this is a little more complex." "Chris Parker

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