Autoharps and banjos have never sounded so utterly sad. On their 2009 K Records debut, Rotting Slowly, the gals and guys in the Curious Mystery manage to capture a sparse sort of melancholy -- not too far off from the reverberated sounds created by '90s snore-core bands Mazzy Star and the Cowboy Junkies. Recorded and produced by Calvin Johnson at Dub Narcotic Studios, the elastic, push-and-pull tempos of drummer Faustine Hudson and bassist Bradford Button stretch songs from achingly slow to messy, tense, midtempo numbers and back again. The Northwestern four-piece thrives in the slower, molasses-churning pace, which better favors the velvet voice of Shana Cleveland. Yearning with a sultry Chan Marshall-esque moan on the gentler songs "Preparation" and "Nicaragua," she shares the microphone with guitarist Nicolas Gonzalez for more demanding numbers like the Eastern-flavored "Outta California" and "The Community Bed." Sometimes difficult, other times meditative, the songwriting on Rotting Slowly is consistently honest and rewarding.