The Cut*Off

While still worshipping at the altar of Frank Black (with a menacing snarl a la famed '60s psycho Sky Saxon), Kyle Barnhill, the frontman for Fort Worth's The Cut*Off, has conjured up his best set of songs for the band's excellent third effort, Packaged Up for Beginners.

By melding the garage/psychedelic drone of the old efforts with a newfound art/pop sensibility, The Cut*Off has moved light years beyond the naïve, Pixies-influenced chutzpah of 2006's Rorschach EP.

Barnhill still has the look of a serial killer, but on Packaged Up for Beginners, his shirt is pressed and he might even be wearing a tie. Hell, it isn't until the fifth track, the thunderously riff-drenched "Luggage for Light Years," that guitarist Jayson Hamilton makes his presence known. Previous to that, it's all about tortured mood as Barnhill muses (rather sedately) about world politics ("Enjoy the Weather") and his own homicidal tendencies (the creepy "Waiting in the Dark"). Rarely has murder sounded so appealing as producer Salim Nourallah gussies up Barnhill's playful sadism with mellotron and strings while thankfully never overwhelming the dissonance that made The Cut*Off so intriguing in the first place.

"Life is hard, especially when you're smart," Barnhill sings on "Better Off Dead," a cut that perfectly encapsulates this inventive disc's merger of garage and grandeur, thus showing a progression that's truly incomparable territory for The Cut*Off.