Benko

The Civil Service

Texas Platters

In a town saturated with marching guitars, the vibraphonic strains of this sideways power trio make for extra refreshing tonic. Benko's craft mixture of cocktail jazz and indie pop stretches horizons even as it soothes the senses. The locals' third overall effort and first since 2008 offers the most pristine summation of their charms yet. Instrumental opener "American Writer" girds its adhesive melody and pleasant rhythm with a sinister undertone, and "Consul" furthers the intrigue with shadowy allusions to diplomatic back channels. Understated vocal harmony between bassist Erik Grostic and vibraphonist Sarah Norris serves this telegraphed opacity well. Richard Nixon enlivens the bridge of the pensive title track with his career-saving "Checkers" speech, but Tosca String Quartet violist Ames Asbell injects even more gravity into the climax of "Beside Yourself." Like a quirky aural novella, The Civil Service resonates long after the last bar is struck.

***.5

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