Jim Elkington is a man with one foot in Wicker Park and the other in Little Storping–in–the–Swuff. The Chicago-based Brit-pat can hide neither his plummy accent—he pronounces the word “can’t” as if he’s talking about a German philosopher, and you should hear what he does to “asshole”—nor his affinity for the campy fop pop of his native land. But he’s clearly smitten with the musical heritage of his adopted country, too. You’ll be tempted to check the album credits to be sure the lilting “Passengers,” one of the 10 songs that make up the Zincs’ solid sophomore effort, Dimmer, isn’t a Jon Dee Graham tune, so much does it partake of the rasp-voiced singer-songwriter’s Tex-Mex melancholia. Similarly, the organ-drenched “Stay in Your House” has all the bluesy menace of a good Morphine song; indeed, it’s so garsh-darn American that it doesn’t just fade out, it rides off into the sunset with a syncopated clippety-clop. And the twang-tinged “New Thought,” which features some nice harmonizing by Elkington and Freakwater’s Janet Bean, would have made a really nice cover for Johnny Cash and daughter Rosanne; the too-clever opening lines, “Life, life is long/What doesn’t kill me only makes my life longer,” particularly, are tailor-made for the Man in Black’s astringent, matter-of-fact delivery. But not even the broad shoulders of Chi-town are broad enough to put Elkington beyond the long and sophisticated reach of Noel Coward. With his smooth baritone and intelligently, self-indulgently ironic lyrics, the head Zinc isn’t about to be mistaken for one of America’s barbaric yawpers. With the exception of a few fleeting displays of wank by guitarist Nathaniel Braddock, these compositions are well-shaped, comely things ranging from the ethereally hushed (“Sunday Night”) to the politely perky (“Moment Is Now!”). Saying that the best song on Dimmer, the slyly ebullient breakup tale “Beautiful Lawyers,” sounds like a really good Divine Comedy track mistakenly mastered onto an album of fairly decent Smog songs may seem like a backhanded compliment, but the achievement is hardly something to be ashamed of. (Especially if you can manage to sneak in lines like “We’re using our own broken backgrounds/Just shows what some lies can do.”) Granted, the Zincs have yet to develop a truly individual musical identity to stand against Neil Hannon’s sophisticated self-deprecation or Bill Callahan’s brilliantly offhand evocations of deep psychological malaise. But you could do much worse, of a lonely night, than to dim the lights and put on a little Dimmer.—Michael Little
The Zincs perform at 8:30 p.m. Monday, May 23, at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. For more information, call (202) 667-7960.