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The Television Personalities
My Dark Places
Domino Records

The Television Personalities open My Dark Places with a curveball. "Special Chair" begins with the raggedy, disheveled charm of the band's classic sound, as Dan Treacy's amateurish, almost childlike vocals mewl out a cute tune - cute, that is, until it takes an abrupt and jarring turn toward the grim. After a few times through a chorus of "She has a special chair/For when he's not there," Treacy drops the pleasant façade: "But her parents say he's such a fucking waster/And when he gets out of jail he'll probably come round and paste her." The innocence of early singles like "Part-Time Punks" evaporates immediately, and the jolly frivolity of the quarter-century-old "Smashing Time" takes on sinister new meaning.

Treacy - who for all intents and purposes is the TVP - isn't kidding about that album title, shared with an equally grim James Ellroy book about the murder of the author's mother. My Dark Places quickly abandons the idea of "pop music" entirely, often not resembling it in any recognizable form. Instead, it offers a rambling trip through Treacy's damaged psyche. While it's not always easy to listen to, it's compelling and unnerving enough to merit attention. The man who once sang "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives" now knows more than where; he knows how.

"All The Young Children On Crack" exemplifies the album's approach. Over an incredibly simple beat, with a recording so lo-fi it makes The Moldy Peaches sound like Boston, Treacy chants about the young children, multitracking his voice with a grating sped-up version of himself. Occasionally the song stops for a bit of rudimentary acoustic guitar plunking. Then it's over. And that's the album's lead-off single.

Elsewhere, on "Sick Again," Treacy declares, "I lost the plot." Anyone seeking easily-palatable pop kicks will assuredly agree, but My Dark Places retains a perversely powerful pull, even as several tracks consist of mere keyboard vamps and spoken vocals, sometimes laced with obviously canned horns. Treacy bares his soul on these songs, and not without some humor: the main reason the TVP haven't released an album in over a decade has been Treacy's debilitating descent into drugs, mental illness, and jail, and when he says, "Don't mind the rocks/I'm still Danny from the block," the searing double-pun inspires both a smile and a wince - not because of the J-Lo reference, but because the poor bastard is clearly still carrying some real baggage.

Perhaps to temper the album's intensity a bit for the squeamish, Treacy included some throwbacks to earlier days, when the TVP helped establish the innocent-sounding twee-pop sound that flourished in the British C86 movement and the American K Records scene in the 1980s. "Velvet Underground" offers breathless wonder at some musical heroes, while "She Can Stop Traffic" captures Treacy at his sweetest and most tuneful. For the most part, though, My Dark Places is just that; it's a bleak vision of a broken man, but a compelling one too. Not all art is pretty, nor should it be. Sometimes it's about exorcizing demons. We can hear some being expelled on this album, and there are clearly more remaining.

-Whit Strub

Track listing:
1. Special Chair
2. All the Young Children on Crack
3. Sick Again
4. Ex-Girlfriend Club
5. Dream the Sweetest Dreams
6. Velvet Underground
7. My Dark Places
8. I'm Not Your Typical Boy
9. You Kept Me Waiting Too Long
10. They'll Have to Catch Us First
11. She Can Stop Traffic
12. Tell Me About Your Day
13. Then a Big Boy Came and Knocked It All Down
14. I Hope You're Happy Now
15. No More I Hate You's
16. There's No Beautiful Way to Say Goodbye

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