LD & the New Criticism
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LD & the New Criticism

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"TRAGIC REALISM by LD & the New Criticism"

LD & the New Criticism, Tragic Realism
reviewed by dave heaton
"I wouldn't cry if you were run over by a train," the first line of the album goes. Cold as ice, right? But wait a second, listen to what follows: "But I might just laugh / if a train cut you in half / and smashed your cello / and spread your brains like Jell-O".Ouch! This is way beyond cruel, this"Elegy for an Ex-", even if it's sung in the friendly, matter-of-fact tone of a pop crooner. It's also hilarious, in a dark way of course...and melodic, a short, catchy song quickly introducing us to the world of LD and the New Criticism's Tragic Realism, where death and love go hand in hand, and outragous humor thinly covers up genuine hurt.

The 'LD' in question is of course LD Beghtol, whose voice you'll at least recognize from his contributions to the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, if not from his own groups Flare and the Moth Wranglers. He has a remarkable sense for melody, and on Tragic Realism those memorable tunes are dressed to the nines, stylish and quite lovely sounding. A sticker on the CD encourages record stores to file it under "experimental countrypolitan deathpop", and I'm willing to let that description stand. I'm especially taken with the word "countrypolitan", as it gets at both LD's obvious love for old-time country (themselves often songs about death and infidelity and heartbreak), and the urbane, metropolitan feeling of this New Yorker's songs, which (like Stephin Merritt's) definitely carry a sense of the city's songwriting history, from Tin Pan Alley to the Brill Building, Broadway and onward.

Sometimes it sounds like we're at a proper hoe-down ("Burn, Burn, Burn in Hell"), other times a classy night on the town ("I've Got One Foot in the Grave and the Other on the Dance Floor"). And most often, somewhere in between. And as novelist Peter Straub rightly notes in the liner notes, if you aren't listening closely - to the lyrics or the unique paths the songs take - you might mistakenly think you're listening to "good-natured, nostalgic country-pop", pleasant pop without an edge. Listen closer, the songs might bite your ear off.

Death comes in many ways on Tragic Realism: Poisoning, hanging, shooting, suffocation, getting smashed in the skull with a hammer, slitting your own wrists ("cause you can't recall the last time you were kissed"), asking your lover to kill you cause you can't pay your medical bills. As the last two cases attest to, the death (and assorted other dramas, involving antidepressants, cheating lovers, etc.) isn't just soap opera played to the hilt for laughs, though it is that as well. Who was it who said comedy always has sadness at its core? It's certainly true here; Tragic Realism is filled with genuine pain. Its inhabitants kill out of anger at life's circumstances, or at what others have done to them; they want to die to escape the hurt of life. The most cheerful song on the album, "When We Dance (At Joe Orton's Wedding)", describes a place where everything's filled with joy, where everyone can be as they are. The place, of course, is the afterlife: "We'll do as we please / be gay as geese / and we'll never even notice that we're dead".

It's to Beghtol and friends' credit that Tragic Realism manages at once to offer such charming and cheeky fun while also being so full of genuine sadness, so marked by the cold hard facts of life. They turn the deepest sadness into a lark, a dance, a game, a celebration even, while singing boldly and beautifully about the darkest of matters.

{www.darla.com} - earsingclouds.com

"ld & the new criticism - tragic realism • darla records • 2005"

LD Beghtol is probably best known as Stephin Merritt's tenor vocal proxy on The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, most memorably for his breathtakingly extended "wanna go for a rii...iide" in "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side." In addition to his vocal prowess, Beghtol is a talented songwriter in his own right who has been fronting his own chamber-pop ensembles: first Flare and now his New Criticism. Like Merritt, Beghtol tackles various musical styles, with a distinct penchant for old-fashioned American popular music: country-western ("Laughing at You"), ragtime ("Burn, Burn, Burn in Hell"), folk ballad ("Death Lies Near at Hand"), Brill Building pop. Toward this end, his ensemble is populated with traditional instruments like accordion, ukulele, banjo, violin, and slide guitar. His reach also extends to include touches like squalling feedback guitar, spacey echo, and a cheeky nod to Cheap Trick. As for subject matter, well, let's just refer to the liner notes' handy Subject Index, shall we: "murder, suicide, accidental death, legal execution, revenge, voyeurism, fetish-related, attempted murder, possible suicide, death (natural cause), euthanasia, mania, borderline personality." Beghtol's black humor is entirely arch and self-aware, and it's quite funny more often than not. Among the splattering brains, poised razor blades, Midge dolls on a dunebuggy rampage, hellfire, asphyxiation, and motorized wheelchairs, Beghtol also can't resist dropping some names: "Best learn to grin and bear it / or write songs like Stephin Merritt," in "Apathy!" and "You never wanted much / just Morrissey, tea and sympathy" in "Definitive V2." The winking irony keeps Beghtol's Gothicism more in the realm of Lemony Snicket than Nick Cave (though this is not recommended for kids), and thank goodness for that. (mike.03.06) - copacetic-zine.com

"LD & The New Criticism"

I had no idea what to expect when I listened to LD and the New Criticism�s debut CD for the first time. The album cover explicitly requests that it be filed under �experimental countrypolitan deathpop,� a description that I found to be both daunting and amusing. What frightened me more, however, was the image of what appears to be the offspring of a moose and some sort rodent type creature mounted on a wooden plaque and prominently displayed as the centerpiece of the album cover. I knew I was in for something unusual.

Tragic Realism did not disappoint. I found myself listening to some of the most absurd, gruesome, and at times hilarious lyrics I've heard� maybe ever. With song titles like "If You Love Me Baby, Pull the Plug" and "Burn, Burn, Burn in Hell" I guess I should have had an inkling of what was in store. What makes the album so interesting is the contrast between the extraordinarily graphic and menacing lyrics and the catchy sweet melodies that serve as the conduit for the violent messages.

The LD in the band's title is LD Beghtol, veteran of the New York indie rock scene, and member of Flare and the Moth Wranglers. For this freshman effort on the California-based indie label Darla, Beghtol assembled a group of his friends to construct a makeshift orchestra. The result is extremely pleasant; the melodies are strong and catchy and the instrumentation contributes to the country feel of the album.

About halfway through Tragic Realism, I conceded that "countrypolitan" is an apt description of the band's style. Although the themes of the songs -- death, heartbreak, betrayal, deception, love -- are deeply rooted in the country music tradition, the melodies and lyrics themselves have a more urban sensibility, a result of the band's residence in New York City.

When listening to this album I urge you to give it your undivided attention, lest you may find yourself bopping your head and humming along happily to lyrics like "I might just laugh if a train cut you in half/and spread your brains like Jell-O all over the tracks/you won't be coming back." That particular line comes from the bitter and vengeful number "Elegy for an Ex." Clearly, things ended really badly.

If your mind wanders for even a moment you may think you�re listening to pleasant, upbeat, happy music; it is such an incredibly listenable album that it is easy to miss the dark humor of the lyrics.

"Elegy for an Ex" and "When we Dance (At Joe Orton�s Wedding)" reminded me almost of 50s bubblegum pop. Beghtol proves to be an excellent crooner in that very old fashioned way.

"Trouble to Toyland" is an absolutely hilarious homage to Ken and Barbie who are �so thin and in love� and �so cool at their beach house.�

The songs are all quite short, reinforcing the 50s pop feeling of the album. Beghtol�s spoken voice opens a few of the tracks, adding a hoe down or square dance quality to the numbers.

The inanity of LD and the New Criticism's lyrics reminded me of early Barenaked Ladies, where nothing was too silly or too mundane to write about. Where Tragic Realism differs however is the piercing, heaviness of their lyrics that the fun-loving Barenaked Ladies lacked.

Although I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions throughout the album, I get the feeling that while it is undoubtedly meant to be funny, there is a serious undercurrent as well. That's where the "tragic realism" comes in. The album's sensibility it quite silly, but the ideas being discussed and the overarching theme of death are quite real. For that reason Tragic Realism is infinitely more interesting than if it was just attempting to make the listener laugh.

Stephanie Rebick - lefthip.com

"TRAGIC REALISM by LD & the New Criticism"

December 20, 2005

LD Beghtol understands one very simple concept: you don't have to be Nick Cave or The Handsome Family to write murder ballads. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, you're right; though best known for his appearance on The Magnetic Fields' opus 69 Love Songs, he's accomplished more than that. He's also spearheaded groups The Moth Wranglers and Flare, and he's one-third of the scary triumvirate The Three Terrors. You'll also find him spearheading the pages of Village Voice, Time Out New York, and the excellent Chickfactor.

But enough of those matters, as LD & The New Criticism is, as the name suggests, new. Beghtol's always possessed a dry, charming wit, but his other projects never fully explored this aspect of his personality. Sure, Moth Wranglers had some funny moments, and Flare's songs contained well-written songs with a touch of dramatic humor, but with LD & The New Criticism, Beghtol unapologetically indulges his most peculiar sense of humor, as every song on Tragic Realism provides some examination of the lighter--and darker--sides of life, love, and death. When a record's artwork contains a subject key that highlights each song's form of death and destruction, how can you expect anything less than brilliant self-indulgence?

And my, what wonderful things result from his self-indulgence! Beghtol's accrued a number of odd and unique musical toys, and he supplements his songs with all kinds of little things you've never heard of. But most of all, it's safe to assume you've never heard tragedy and death and bitterness and jealousy dealt with in such a fun, lighthearted manner. A hoedown about revenge and blackmail? Yeah, just listen to "Burn, Burn, Burn In Hell." A children's song about suicide? Just dig "DIY And Save Big." So you say you want to hear a simple song about watching your ex be hit by a train? "Elegy For An Ex" will serve you well. Plus, you'll find references to all sorts of wonderful things, ranging from the Louvin Brothers to Howdy Doody. Of course, you don't have to be erudite to appreciate Tragic Realism, but it sure does help. After all, you can't really appreciate the darkness of "When We Dance (At Joe Orton's Wedding)" unless you know the whole story of Joe Orton's life. (And we're not going to tell you the story--you won't learn if we simply tell you. Besides, it's all there in the song.)

Tragic Realism is simply, wonderfully, miserablly excellent. It's great that Beghtol's allowed the world into his inner thoughts--but if you choose to take the journey, be prepared for some rather dark, disturbing--and disturbingly funny--moments.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.darla.com

posted by Joseph Kyle @ 10:50 AM - mundanesounds.com

"LD & The New Criticism - Tragic Realism (Darla)"

The latest project from LD Beghtol who has previously released albums under the names Flare, The Moth Wranglers, and The Three Terrors. Most of Beghtol's previous projects were very slick and calculated affairs...articulately recorded with acute attention to detail. LD & The New Criticism is a band with a much looser sound and overall vibe...and a much more obvious sense of humor. Lyrically, Mr. Beghtol has never been more quick-witted, violent, and entertaining. True, there are lots of laughs to be had while spinning Tragic Realism...but these tunes are definitely not joke compositions. Companionship betrayal seems to have fueled many of these songs and yet, while there are large rivers of sarcasm running through this landscape, the music itself somehow maintains an upbeat aura. Surviving defeat seems to be the main point here...and that is something that all of us should learn as we go through life. The songs on Tragic Realism have true substance...presenting the realities of the world and the humor that is necessary in order to survive. Intelligent tracks include "Elegy For An Ex-," "Apathy!", "Laughing At You," "Too Old To Die Young," and "Unpaid Endorsement." This is LD Beghtol's best work to date. Recommended. (Rating: 5+++) - baby sue

"LD & The New Criticism, Amoral Certitudes EP"

Though he’s released music with a few bands (Flare, the Moth Wranglers), LD Beghtol also of course sang on the Magnetic Fields’ immortal 69 Love Songs, and wrote an excellent “field guide� book to the same. His music with LD & The New Criticism isn’t too far removed in tone from that epic, with smart songs that bear a fascination with words and ideas, plus an appreciation of timeless pop songforms. Amoral Certitudes is a 16-and-a-half-minute continuation of the band’s 2006 album Tragic Realism, and just as good.

The EP starts with a brief new-criticism theme song of sorts (a “Love Theme�), before a series of catchy pop songs that also carry with them ideas. They’re pop songs about love, but also in love with words and what meaning they do or don’t contain. “What You Will�, a duet with Miss Dana Kletter, carries questions of definition and essence (“how do the good hearts beat / can you separate them from the bad?�), while also seeming like fodder for a Dear Abbey advice letter. The lovely “If I Think of Love�, a Lisa Germano cover, plays as a list of words, as Beghtol notes on the back cover, but also a story of heartbreak. Similarly, “Sex Surrogate (the E-stim version)� is partly a litany of rhyming words, but also a tale of someone seeking to buy the secrets of love, to be formed into an “unbesmirchable, certifiable…do-able, very pliable� lover. Its cover dresses Amoral Certitudes as a book, and it is one, with words forming tales and questions but also just words. Yet it’s also a collection of pop songs, ready to be heard and sung.

http://www.erasingclouds.com/wk0208ld.html - erasingclouds.com

"Amoral Certitudes (CD EP, Acuarela, Pop)"

LD & The New Criticism -
This EP is particularly intriguing because it represents the merging of three babysue favorites all within the scope of a single CD. First, this is the latest release from LD & The New Criticism (LD Beghtol was formerly in the bands Flare and The Moth Wranglers). Second, this time around LD's music has been released by Spain's always eclectic and increasingly influential Acuarela label. Thirdly, and perhaps most surprising, is a cover of Lisa Germano's "If I Think of Love." Amoral Certitudes is a bit different from the last release by The New Criticism. These pop tunes are much more baroque and classic in nature...and there seems to be a lot less sarcasm in the lyrics. This is a short EP (very short) that only lasts about 16 minutes. But quality is all that matters when smooth, intricate pop sounds this good. Wonderfully gliding tracks include "AKA Paradise," "Light Verse," and "Sex Surrogate." This EP serves its likely intended purpose...which is to satiate listeners until the next full-length comes out. Recommended. (Rating: 5++)

http://www.babysue.com/2008-Jan-LMNOP-Reviews.html#anchor170410 - babysue.com


On their debut album, 2005's Tragic Realism, LD & the New Criticism seemed determined to channel the sound of leader L.D. Beghtol's friend and occasional bandmate Stephin Merritt's Magnetic Fields, right down to the conceit of having a grand theme for the album. The smaller scale Amoral Certitudes is a comparatively brief EP with no overarching throughlines, and more importantly, it dials back considerably on the Stephin Merritt comparisons. In their place, Beghtol and his associates create a sweet and sour form of chamber pop, on which his often sardonic lyrics mix comfortably with delicate, chiming tunes. Aside from a pair of brief trifles, the opening "Love Theme" and the Swingle Singers-like interlude "Light Verse," Amoral Certitudes consists of lyrically substantial, melodically rich tunes that nonetheless have a certain effervescence that pleasantly subverts their occasional darkness. It takes quite a bit to make a Lisa Germano cover sound like a lullaby, but this version of the singer/songwriter's typically gloomy "If I Think of Love" sounds perversely sweet. The EP's high point, however, is the glorious "What You Will," as winsome and adorable as a vintage Spanky & Our Gang single and featuring a lead vocal from Dana Kletter that reminds listeners of how long it's been since she's made a record of her own. Amoral Certitudes, according to its press kit, is merely a teaser EP released as a stopgap in advance of the real second LD & the New Criticism album due out in 2008, but it's a completely captivating release on its own merits.

Review by Stewart Mason - all,usic.com

"Mensa Melodies"

[...] A New York-based art director and writer, this colleague of the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt doesn't dumb down his baroque pop confections. "Yes, I know the syntax is torturous," he confesses on the track "AKA Paradise." Fortunately, his lyrical brainteasers hurt so good; coupled with its oddball arrangements, the lyrics of LD & the New Criticism's latest, Amoral Certitudes, make this 16-minute EP more rewarding than many full-length albums.

Xylophones commingle with fuzz-laden guitars, and droning organs give way to violin and ukulele, while the loopy cadences of"Sex Surrogate" suggest a medieval dance. On the centerpiece, "What You Will," the lovey-dovey tenor even relinquishes singing to indie-rock cult figures Kendall Jane Meade (of Mascot) and Dana Kletter (who provided vocal assistance on Hole's "Live Through This"). There is no shortage of ingenious twists to these six ditties, but Beghtols witty ideas function in service, rather than at the expense, of his pop smarts.

--Kurt B Reighley - THE ADVOCATE

"Still here, still queer"

[...] Renaissance man LD Beghtol was part of The Magnetic Fields lineup for the legendary “69 Love Songs� set. On his own, like Merritt, Beghtol is involved in more than one musical project, including The Moth Wranglers and Flare. “Amoral Certitudes� (Acuarela), the follow-up to 2005’s “Tragic Realism,� is the new EP by LD and The New Criticism. Over the course of six irresistible and accessible tracks, Beghtol and company deliver, dare it be said, some downright radio- and iPod-friendly tunes that encourage singing along and unselfconscious dancing. Cases in point—“AKA Paradise� and “What You Will,� featuring Dana Kletter...



AMORAL CERTITUDES (Darla/Acuarela, 2007), NOIS 062 cdep
1. "Love Theme from LD+TNC" (0:39)
2. "AKA Paradise" (2:53)
3. "What You Will" -- featuring Dana Kletter & Kendall Jane Meade (3:24)
4. "If I Think of Love" (4:17)
5. "Light Verse" (1:10)
6. "Sex Surrogate" -- E-stim version (4:09)

"Sex Surrogate" (4:43)

TRAGIC REALISM (Darla/Acuarela, 2005), cd
1. "Elegy for an Ex-" (1:49)
2. "Always the Last to Know" (3:19)
3. "Apathy!" (3:57)
4. "Trouble in Toyland" (1:23)
5. "When We Dance (At Joe Orton's Wedding)" (3:27)
6. "Burn, Burn, Burn in Hell" (1:49)
7. "Definitive V2" (4:00)
8. "Laughing at You" (2:03)
9. "I've Got One Foot in the Grave and the Other on the Dance Floor" (2:29)
10. "Death Lies Near at Hand" (2:25)
11. "DIY and Save Big" (0:59)
12. "(If You Love Me, Baby) Pull the Plug" (2:57)
13. "Too Old to Die Young" (4:28)
14. "In Blue" (2:56)
15. "Unpaid Endorsement" (4:56)
16. "That Attribution Rag!" (0:47)



LD & THE NEW CRITICISM is the socially abject bastard stepchild of fuzzy-faced LD Beghtol, a displaced southerner who now calls Bushwick, Brooklyn home. LD was born at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in 1964, and was reared in nearby Clarksville, Tennessee, amidst ruined farmland and industrial sprawl. The youngest of seven children, Beghtol (whose initials stand for “Lawrence David,� not “Lethal Dose� as some have speculated), spent his youth reading everything from Baudelaire and Poe to Nancy Mitford, Wilde and De Sade, and immersing himself in art history and music theory. He later studied design in London, and holds a BFA from the University of Memphis. He has worked professionally as a bartender, art director, tailor, nightclub doorman, freelance journalist, exhibition designer, art curator and guerilla theatre producer, and has swept floors and taught visual arts to children and adults. He is currently employed by the VILLAGE VOICE as an deputy art director, and writes about books and the arts for that publication as well TIME OUT NEW YORK, THE ADVOCATE, CHICKFACTOR and others folks.

LD is also the singer/writer/musical director of New York-based orchestral pop collective Flare (with Charles Newman and a large, revolving cast of other musicians); one half of the willfully obscure bicoastal experimental duo, Moth Wranglers (with Chris Xefos); and approximately one third of The Three Terrors (with Stephin Merritt and Dudley Klute). In 1999, he joined Merritt’s The Magnetic Fields as guest vocalist and musician for their acclaimed musical tour de force, 69 LOVE SONGS—both on disc and at select live performances hither and yon. In addition to his beloved ukuleles, he plays guitar (badly), assorted vintage keyboards (with style, if not accuracy) and all sorts of unusual instruments such as Marxophones, Korean push-button banjos, handbells and Malaysian frog calls. A life-long insomniac, LD plays the ukulele, collects odd and obscure musical instruments, and reads compulsively.

Like Flannery O’Connor, he’s not so innocent as he looks.

* * * * *
AMORAL CERTITUDES, the latest offering from New York’s tuneful, eclectic LD & the New Criticism is a delightful morsel of pop yumminess -- a musical amuse-bouche sure to linger in your ear as it momentarily satisfies your hunger, yet still leaving you wanting more. Created as a musical bridge between TRAGIC REALISM, the band’s critically-acclaimed 2005 debut, and a new full-length collection the band are currently constructing, AMORAL CERTITUDES is a brief survey of crimes of the heart that has one elegantly-shod foot planted firmly in the fetid grave of romance, and the other in the giddy, carnivalesque Tunnel of Love. LD Beghtol’s playful lyrics sing of the unabashed humor and pathos of human amatory relations, even as the swirling musical accompaniment entices you inward and onward to your doom. Or redemption. Or whatever—it’s your trip, baby; you decide.

AMORAL CERTITUDES opens with “Love Theme from LD & TNC,� a brief lesson in literary criticism (in lullaby form) that soon gives way to “AKA Paradise� -- a rousing three-minute pop number replete with sonorous clarinets and what just might be a hint of hopefulness. Well, maybe. Next is “What You Will,� a neo-60s folk-rock nugget that features the wondrous vocals of Dana Kletter and Kendall Jane Meade, as well as oceans of chiming 12-string electric guitar. An enchanting cover of Lisa Germano’s “If I Think of Love� is followed by another Beghtolian song-epigram, the doowop confection “Light Verse.� Bringing it all home is “Sex Surrogate,� a mechanized sea chanty about the search for sexual validation in today’s consumer-driven society. Is that desperation in the air? Or just the sweet smell of excess?