Artists usually dis fans who pick apart their “break-up albums,” but denial’s pointless with this Brooklyn band’s powerful ninth (and final) record: It’s the gruesome aftermath of a contact-sport affair. If singers and ex-partners Tim Bracy and Shannon McArdle matched their music to their emotions, they’d be grinding out ear-pounding death metal instead of 30 Year Low‘s country rock to match the cruelty they unleash.
The brawling here exceeds ML’s usual down-and-out vibe, venturing into a war zone as bloody as an anti-romantic epic like
Shoot Out the Lights. Despite its gentle doo-wop sound, McArdle’s opening shot, “Since I Came,” is an angry meditation about abandonment that suggests violent abortion as an act of mercy. Next, she trades lines with Okkervil River’s Will Sheff on “From an Old Maid,” wherein her disappearing youth is brutally mocked. But she strikes back on the balls-out rocker “31 Candles,” laughing at her ex’s pathetic devotion to a naive Lolita.
Bracy enters, already weary, to drawl on “I Lost My Taste,” with “Sister Ray” organ noise and berserk guitar solos suggesting his own seething anger. After slyly sandwiching her steppin’-out revenge song (“Stepping On My Heels”) between Bracy’s two great honky-tonk weepers (break-ups seen as parole and stock-market crashes), McArdle gets the last word with the mournful ballad “Tell It to the Raven,” her voice trailing off. Then, aside from an extra disc of leftovers (including appropriately regretful Dylan and Springsteen covers), it’s over. Not even 30 minutes for two ex-lovers who chide each other for being over 30. They’ve said their piece and torn each other into pieces–we’re left to rubberneck at the crack-up.