From spinning provocative pseudo-propaganda with his early-'90s band the Nation of Ulysses to lampooning the state of mainstream music with his 2010-era improvisational ensemble Felt Letters (to name just two of his many projects), musician and bon vivant
Ian Svenonius has always had a knack for high-concept political/philosophical sloganeering. This trend continued with Chain & the Gang, who over their past two records have taken to task everything from slavery to the pharmaceutical industry, delivered with Svenonius' signature charisma and backed by a funky, lo-fi band. Their previous effort, Music's Not for Everyone, showed some signs of wear in this message-oriented approach, so perhaps that's why on In Cool Blood Chain & the Gang are more concerned with fooling around than flying an ideological flag, a paradigm shift that sets things back on track. Here, Svenonius and company -- new Gang members include singer Katie Alice Greer and drummer Fiona Campbell (Vivian Girls, Coasting), alongside guests like Spencer Kelley (Basemint) and Swimsuit's Fred Thomas and Amber Fellows -- explore matters of the flesh with the feral swagger of "Hunting for Love" and pulpy seduction of "Heavy Breathing," throw an intimate gathering on the simplistic, playful "Surprise Party," and generally seek alternatives to the daily grind with the unsettled "You Better Find Something to Do." In case the new thematic focus isn't obvious, Chain & the Gang underline it: Greer's vocals on the lyrically nihilistic "Free Will" are so perfectly aloof one can almost hear her eyes rolling; "I'm Not Interested (In Being Interesting)" hammers home its title by extending into an unnecessary second track (but maybe that's the point); and "Nuff Said" boils it down for the attention deficient with lyrics like "I said all I'm gonna say/I take the Fifth today." But this isn't to say In Cool Blood completely abandons the band's old ways; in "Certain Kinds of Trash" Svenonius rattles off vintage refuse items (asbestos, floppy discs, ashtrays) as a riff on the disposable nature of life, and the concept, as well as his agile vocal interplay with Greer, culminates in one of the most archetypal (and all-around best) tunes in the Chain & the Gang songbook. Aside from the change in subject matter, the other immediate difference here is the album's production style: recording in mono for the first time, In Cool Blood accentuates the band's raw sonics and captures the energy and allure of its live performances more effectively than its previous records allowed. Detouring from the dogma and moving toward production values that highlight the band's best attributes successfully infuse Chain & the Gang with new blood, and yes, the result is cool, indeed.