Love songs abound on 2003’s Red Devil Dawn, but most of the love is dead or dying or at least dirty. That makes sense: Just a few years after his split with indie stalwarts Archers of Loaf, Eric Bachmann had forcefully forged a new identity and sound with Crooked Fingers, and he quickly amassed a catalog of gorgeous, poetic songs about weary losers and broken lives. This is the album that gave their desperation its most pointed, perfectly detailed homes.
Red Devil Dawn was the third Crooked Fingers album inside of four years, and in hindsight, it feels like both the pinnacle and the end of Crooked Fingers Phase One. Bachmann had perfected the art of darkness, of finding his characters and stories in solitude and then adding or subtracting sounds and players to make them come alive. Never had they seemed more personal or more vulnerable than on Red Devil Dawn, from the ornery argument on “You Threw a Spark” to the heartbreaking album closer “Carrion Doves,” which posits that “what can make us one can make us come undone.”
But the album also nudges open the door to where Bachmann would take Crooked Fingers next. “Sweet Marie” adds jaunty horns to a withering-but-somehow-sweet story about infidelity. And elsewhere, there’s more hope in the darkness than ever, though it can be hard to recognise at first. But at the end of “Disappear,” he sums up both Crooked Fingers’ past and its future: “There’s beauty in an ugly thing, redemption in demise.” That’s Red Devil Dawn writ small and simple: It finds the specks of light in the darkest rooms, and spins the whole picture into a gorgeous whole.