Anyone expecting even one song on the new record by The Handsome Family to even think about rising above a mid-tempo lope will be disappointed. The languid feel of the music on offer across the 12 songs which make up Wilderness gives it an otherworldly sort of vibe; there are other purveyors of this sort of alt-country/Americana that can provide a more up-tempo fix if you're looking for one. This is the sort of album to sit around and ruminate to - it's been on heavy rotation for me over the last while, but I don't listen to it unless my mood/the weather suits; such a strategy has certainly helped in my appreciation of it. The whole album features songs named after animals, and the imagery in the often surreal lyrics adds its overall aesthetic, helping it to stand out and appear 'different'.

The Handsome Family are actually primarily a duo composed of husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks, though the music of Wilderness is layered and dense and provided by a number of guest musicians. Vocal duties are mostly assigned to Brett, whose gravelly voice suits the music perfectly; opener 'Flies' features tight harmonies and everything from banjo to glockenspiel, all brought together by his evocative voice and Rennie's poetic lyrics. As you would expect, the lyrics are full of references to - and metaphors involving - animals, and there's an absurdist quality to many of them, though there's plenty of striking imagery in there as well (particularly so on current single 'Caterpillar' and the album's sole foray into genuine country music, 'Owls' - slide guitar and all) - it certainly isn't easy to follow a song which opens with a line like, 'Sylvia was struck by lightning while reading in bed one night'.

There are even flashes of the 'Southern gothic' for which they've become known for, such as on the haunting 'Glow Worm'. THF have been part of the landscape for quite a while, and the release of Wilderness marks their 20th year as a band. They've progressed wonderfully over the course of their career, and while the new album may not be as accessible as some of their other work, spending time with it yields impressive rewards, particularly on the album's back half, with 'Spider' and closer 'Wildebeest' able to take their place among the best material the band have written so far. Happy anniversary.