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The Hanged Man *
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  • Even though he jumped off the indie rock hamster wheel after his 2010 album The Brutalist Bricks, Ted Leo couldn't fully walk away from music. He started touring solo a couple years later and teamed up with Aimee Mann to form the band the Both, which released a very good album in 2014. The experience seemed to rekindle the idea of making albums on his own, a concept that he took to heart on 2017's The Hanged Man. Without the support of any labels, and with funds raised through crowd-sourcing, Leo built a studio in his house and started working on a new, more personal and musically diverse batch of songs. Although a few friends like Mann and Jonathan Coulton dropped by, Leo was the sole guiding force and he acquits himself well as a producer. He doesn't get the big, punchy sound that the Pharmacists got at their best; even on the toughest rockers here, there's still a slightly homemade feel and a slight tentativeness that feels odd on a Ted Leo album. The time he spent working on the songs does pay off in other ways, though. The vocal harmonies are strong, the keyboards are well positioned, and he stretches his songwriting muscles more than he might have if The Hanged Man was just another in a series of Pharmacists' albums. While those were reliably solid, it was hard not to wish Leo would do exactly what he does here. Along with the expected, and uniformly great, paint-peeling, jumped-up mod rockers ("Used to Believe," "Run to the City) and tough, Thin Lizzy-inspired tracks ("The Future Is Learning to Wait Around for Things You Didn't Know You Wanted to Wait For," "You're Like Me"), he delves into horn-driven, blue-eyed soul on "Can't Go Back," lilting acoustic pop on "You Make Me Feel Loved," and Billy Bragg-styled storytelling on "Lonsdale Avenue." There are also many more ballads than one might expect on a Ted Leo album, ranging from acoustic guitar with strings to full-on piano man bathed in blue light. He definitely has the voice to pull them off, expressive and elastic; he also has the sadness to fully inhabit their melancholy territory. The heartbreaking "Let's Stay on the Moon" is the best of the bunch, but the oddball "William Weld in the 21st Century" comes close. The slower tempos and quieter arrangements of this handful of songs add a nice balance to the tracks that come blasting out of the speakers to shake the listener by the lapels, getting their blood pumping and their feet moving. They help make The Hanged Man very close to the album Ted Leo fans were waiting for. With a couple more killer songs and rougher production, it will all come together eventually. Until then, this is a fine place to mark Leo's welcome comeback. ~ Tim Sendra
Professional Reviews
Paste (magazine) - "Later tracks like 'Make Me Feel Loved' and 'Lonsdale Avenue' exist in the realm of the Paisley Underground set, with jangly acoustic guitars intertwining over shy tunes of loveless minutiae..."
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