Produced by Grammy winner Ted Hutt (Violent Femmes, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Devil Makes Three, Lucero), High Times in the Dark won ardent acclaim upon its April 3, 2020 release by Forty Below Records. The fifth release by Chicago-based “garage cabaret” band the Claudettes, High Times in the Dark was named Album of the Week by L.A. Weekly, earned four stars and a spot on “Favorite Rock Albums of 2020” on AllMusic.com and won rave reviews in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, the UK, South America and Australia.
Two songs were recorded during those album sessions but saved for future standalone release. One was “Different Drugs (Song for Bill Hicks)”, which came out on October 2, 2020. The second, set for release on March 26, is “Kept Them in the Dark”, a song that Claudettes pianist/songwriter Johnny Iguana wrote just after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 went into effect.
“I remember seeing Paul Ryan bang that gavel, with such a big grin,” says Iguana. “There was all this back-slapping, practically high-fiving, and all I could think was that there are victims of these policies–and they know it.” Iguana thought of an apt comparison to the perpetrators and victims of this crime. “I pictured Ariel Castro’s relatives, seeing his boarded-up basement windows and knowing he had stopped accepting visitors. Maybe Ariel had been acting strangely and nervously for a while. Maybe they suspected there were victims down there but didn’t do anything about it.”
Kept Them in the Dark takes the listener to that dark, dripping, locked basement and condemns those complicit in the crime (both in the U.S. Capitol that day in 2017 and in that Cleveland neighborhood between 2002 and 2004): “Your story is fiction. You knew about the victims. By act of omission, you left them in the dark. You left us all in the dark.”
Producer Ted Hutt played a large role in fine-tuning the sonics of Kept Them in the Dark, zeroing in on a ’60s tremolo guitar sound situated somewhere between surf/garage rock and the James Bond theme. Thunder rolls by in the form of floor-tom flourishes recorded in a room with high ceilings. The piano, bass and drums lock into a 7/4 groove that shifts from stomping to gently flowing before giving way to the 4/4 bridge in which Berit Ulseth’s feathery multitracked vocals arrive like a boy’s choir, until the sinister 7/4 figure returns to snatch the song back and finish it.
As Jim Hynes of Glide Magazine said, this music conjures “echoes from Julie London to Allen Toussaint to garage rockers like the Detroit Cobras and the Black Keys.” Kept Them in the Dark arrived as a lyric video in an exclusive March 23 online premiere by Pop Matters. The track itself will be released on all digital platforms on March 26. Johnny’s 13-year-old son Roman, an avid filmmaker, made the video, creating the basement scenes in Blender then editing in Vegas Pro.
Like so many others, the Claudettes were robbed by COVID-19 of a jam-packed 2020 full of gigs including two European tours. The band have chosen to write and record prolifically during the pandemic rather than engage in online streaming performances. They will post news of new shows (which will commence in June 2021) and upcoming releases on their website and social media in the coming months.