Listening to Saul Conrad's debut album, Poison Packets — croaking, defeatist indie-folk in the vein of Elliott Smith with the Nineties-inspired lo-fi hooks of Yuck — it's hard to believe Conrad had never played a live show at the time of its release. Poison Packets is a good time in its own way, even when the record is so black it chokes down its laughs. Unaccompanied, save for a female vocalist that looms like a pallid specter, Conrad conveys such an expert sense of loneliness, it could've only been cultivated out of first-hand experience. And this is coming from a guy that even the most informed devourers of indie rock have likely never heard of, except for those in the Boston area (Conrad's home quarters).
Poison Packets exists without geographical patent, not identifiably "Boston" like the Dropkick Murphys or early Lemonheads. There are no fratty catcalls or bleacher-rattling choruses — this is a record that prods its way into your consciousness with needling subtlety. Conrad is a corrosive fuck: Sunny banner in the living room/I know now what to do to keep my brain breathing fresh air, he sings on "The Engines"; the laugh line of the album comes on "Bonfire Blues" with the wonderfully deadpanned, Her legs are closed to me. He always beats himself to the punch. Even if he didn't, these gravel-beaten blooz-bar lamentations are too pretty for their morbidity to overbear. (Mountain of Leopards Records)