Singer/songwriter Simon Bonney’s renegade gang have often been unfairly served by chroniclers of post-punk history. The more myopic regard them as little more than an impoverished cousin to The Bad Seeds, but this is due more to shared DNA (the late Rowland S. Howard joined CTCS after he quit The Birthday Party, and former Bad Seed Mick Harvey was a member for five years from 1985) than any direct similarities.
Fifth album American Twilight — their first set of new songs since 1990 — is a darkly compelling listen that marks out their distinctive territory even more clearly. It’s a dramatic and richly imagistic blend of gothic alt-blues, widescreen soundtracks, noirish art rock, gospel, cabaret jazz and Americana that sees their line-up reconfigured to include such alt-rock luminaries as drummer Jim White (of The Dirty Three) and guitarist David Eugene Edwards (Wovenhand, 16 Horsepower), alongside veterans Bonney, violinist Bronwyn Adams and guitarist Alexander Hacke (formerly of Einstürzende Neubauten).
As its title suggests, the album deals with themes of deterioration, diminishment and decay — unsurprisingly perhaps, given that it was written and recorded in Detroit — but Bonney’s lyrical concerns range beyond the socio-economic to power and power relations, both at a state and personal level, most notably in the divinely lachrymose desert blues of “Domina,” the thrillingly gnarly “Riven Man” and “Streets Of West Memphis,” which suggests a post-apocalyptic Springsteen.
Impossibly, this is CTCS’s 36th year in the business of documenting man’s frailties, fuck-ups and faltering faith with visceral poeticism and a fervour that borders on the diabolic. Clearly, their work is far from done.