Greg Dulli has been churning out sorrowful soul-rock for so long--throughout the 1990s with the Afghan Whigs, and for the past six years with the Twilight Singers--that each new record he makes seems to carry the threat of shtick. Until you hear it, that is: More than any other member of his scrappy post-grunge cohort, Dulli knows how to preserve the menace in misery, so his music never tips over into sensitive-guy caricature; there's always something creepy and unsettled to his reflections on addiction and romantic desperation--something that suggests he might be seeking your admiration, not your pity.
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On Powder Burns, the follow-up to the Twilights' 2004 covers album, She Loves You, there's something even darker than usual tugging at the music, but for once it's not of Dulli's making: The front man recorded the album at producer Mike Napolitano's studio in New Orleans, half before Hurricane Katrina hit, the other half after. The result is the rawest Singers album yet, with electronic beats grinding beneath trebly guitar fuzz, and woozy keyboards doing their best to absorb Dulli's gloom in cuts like "Underneath the Waves," where the singer longs for "a place high above the tide." This album digs too deep to be that place, and that's its virtue.