If the term "punk rock cabaret" doesn't grab you, maybe the strong storytelling and creative musical arrangements will.
The World/Inferno Friendship Society has been at it since the ‘90s, having moved several dozen members through the ranks of their New York punk cabaret ensemble. Currently the touring band sits at around seven to 10 members, which is roughly the number of musicians that came together to record their latest album, This Packed Funeral. Like the band’s legendarily raucous live shows, this is an album that always seems about to fall off of a cliff into a sonic mess, but bandleader and singer Jack Terricloth always manages to hold it together.
This Packed Funeral’s title track comes late in the album (second-to-last) but encapsulates the band’s sound in a little under four minutes. The song starts quietly, with a ‘50s pop-ballad guitar line as Terricloth, in lounge singer mode, rattles off a series of half-assed jokes (“Flirting with disaster / Hey, disaster!”, “Waking up with hope / Good morning, hope”). Strings and trumpet intrude to break up the initial feeling and inject a bit of mariachi style into the song. Then, after about a minute of this, the song leaps into punk mode, with distorted guitars and galloping drums. Once the track switches tempo and sound, the song becomes a celebration and everything clicks together, the mariachi elements in particular.
Opener “Dolce Far Niente” works in similar territory, with Terricloth crooning seemingly about a conversation with a very annoying person while a host of instruments chime in and out. Eventually the drums creep in and then the guitar kicks in and the whole track takes off. The addition of horns and glockenspiel and the backup vocals of Sandra Malak keep the song from being your run-of-the-mill punk track, and the punchline at the end of the song, “This is how they talked about me”, nicely flips the lyrical perspective on its head.
Fortunately, every song on This Packed Funeral doesn’t follow the “quiet and slow then fast and loud” formula. The mid-album duo “Don’t Kiss Me, I’m Running Out of Lipstick” and “The Faster You Go, the Better You Think” mine World/Inferno’s punk side to great effectiveness. The former is a full duet between Terricloth and Malak, with an excellent drum performance from Mora Precarious and a great arrangement that includes organ and trumpet. “The Faster You Go” at first sounds like a continuation of “Don’t Kiss Me”, but despite the similar tempo and drums, the arrangement relies heavily on acoustic guitar, piano, and strings. This gives it a distinct feeling that separates it from the earlier.
Even when World/Inferno works more on the cabaret side of their personality and verges on loungey novelty, Terricloth’s lyrics keep the songs interesting. He tends to lean towards storytelling, which rewards repeated listens to suss out the details of his tales. The New Orleans jazz style of “Don’t Get Me Started, Don’t Get Me Wrong” is celebratory, but not exactly fresh. The story, though, starts out as a tale of youthful indiscretion that quickly becomes an account of his platonic relationship with an older woman that helped him in his life, but, he realizes later, maybe not her. Similarly interesting is “Dr. Dracula Who Makes You Get High”, which sounds a bit like (‘90s references here) Mike Patton fronting Morphine. Lyrically, though, the song is from the perspective of a fictional character who seems to actually exist and cause trouble in the real world. It’s a bizarre premise that makes the song a fascinating listen.
Occasionally Terricloth gets a bit lazy lyrically and the band a bit too straightforward musically. But that doesn’t ever seem to happen at the same time, which means This Packed Funeral ends up as a thoroughly entertaining album. World/Inferno seems like the perfect band for listeners who aren’t as into straight-ahead punk rock as they once were and don’t mind when the style gets mixed up with other types of music.