Underground Personality Tapes (Star Blue TV)
Straight from Los Angeles’s sex-wrinkled duodenum comes Roxy
Saint, whose DVD Underground Personality Tapes has
landed her a number of high-profile shows, especially in Europe
(Download, Leeds and the like). The lady has assembled a pretty
sick batch of punk tunes here, a great self-produced debut
considering that it was pretty much recorded on the fly, in
living rooms, and edited on an Apple G4. The guitars rub the
nerve endings and the vocals are recorded very hot, on the
cusp of detonation. Standout tunes include “Humans,” “Rebel,”
the relentless “Fuck Song,” and the desperate, hardened “Superstars.”
Although I believe that most of the tracks were recorded by
live musicians, UPT apes the pulse of electronica in
all its uncongenial glory with an infectious urgency. Once
you watch it, at least some portion of it is in your head
for the rest of the day.
Each song comes with its own video, with a number of additional
“lifestyle” scenes thrown in for good measure. Because some
of these scenes feature her famous rock-star buds, it is easy
to see this as nothing more than high-tech name-dropping,
but to be fair, much of the short clips feature anonymous
L. A. freakazoids just doing their thing. Kind of like Jane’s
Addiction’s Soul Kiss, and in that same nothing’s-shocking
vein, she looks to shun taboo, with mixed results. In the
video for the excellent “Firecracker,” a naked Saint squirts
period blood into a half-filled bathtub; Donita Sparks of
L7 removing her tampon and hurling it at a disgusted Reading
crowd was a much more telling moment for me. In another scene,
Saint rubs her well-heeled feet all over Nick Oliveri from
Queens of the Stone Age as he attempts to navigate his Ford
down the Sunset Strip, distracted only to the point of base
Still, what makes her innuendo appealing is that, despite
all the titty-clenching and bleary-eyed pouts into the lens,
Saint’s persona is one of complete control within the context
of her music. She uses the old sex-sells standard against
itself to rupture any marginalization of Saint the woman.
That, and there’s a certain ugliness around her hotness. Someone
described her as a cross between Nina Hagen and Marilyn Manson,
which seems about right. All the sweet touch-me-daddy glam/punk/glitter
amalgamations just ooze from the TV screen, into your ears
and into your lap.
At first I disliked the fact that this thing is useless in
a regular CD player (if you buy the DVD, you can burn the
songs to CD online, but I’m just not that industrious). This
was clearly done intentionally, flipping a twisted middle
finger to industry norms, but the test will be in how it flies.
If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it
make a sound? If popularity is the final litmus test, then
it runs the risk of being a pure annoyance to the consumer.
Now, some people will say that the consumer is irrelevant.
But don’t you believe it. The positive far outweighs the negative.
Saint’s material is damn good, successfully challenging the
sexy-rock-chick formula, the one we thought we could be comforted
by, the one of which America is somehow selfishly and perversely
proud. What she displaces is the authority of monologic principle
and affiliation. Apparently Saint and her band, the Blackouts,
are in the studio recording a proper audio offering. If UPT
was any indication of where she’s headed, I’m in.
(One Mad Son)
With last year’s Garden Below, Ed Gorch’s group knotworking
broke away from their grainy folkscapes to wallow in polished
production and increased contributions from other members.
It makes sense then that Gorch made a subsequent turn back
to his lo-fi roots, packing a bunch of avant-tweaked, stripped-down
numbers into the grooves of his first official solo outing.
The album represents a nice evolution for the Albany singer-songwriter,
and his depressive, alt-Americana narratives are at their
most mature yet on Coward.
is at his best when he’s at his least literal and most off-kilter,
and Coward offers up plenty of both states. The album
may not have the sheen of the last knotworking album, but
the songs resonate with an unself-conscious originality that
Gorch has always been headed toward. And Coward sounds
like an arrival, like an album made as much for himself as
anybody (a positive thing in this case).
Gone are the more direct (sometimes preachy) social narratives
of the past and the occasionally dewy romanticism. (Don’t
get me wrong—I’ve always liked Gorch’s stuff, and have said
as much in print. But this time, I really believe him,
from the first note to last. He’s confidently and quietly
on top of his craft.) There’s also a sense of dislocation
and tunefully abstract expression on the album that works
really well. I’ve always thought of Gorch as a youthful wunderkind,
but this album sounds like a man who’s grown into his talent.
(And fittingly, the recording of this album is less of a social
event of Lark Street regulars; it’s primarily Gorch with some
recording assistance from Justin Mikulka.)
Befitting his relatively lo-fi medium, there are plenty of
coughs and shuffles and mutters, and some unsettling, though
effective touches: the clangy, metallic percussion of “Goliath”;
the trebly, unprocessed vocal of “Slowest Fawn”; the buried
speaking and creaks of “Viper.” But the bedrock here is primarily
close-miked acoustic fingerpicking and some strong, often
disquieting tunes (sometimes coming off like the soundtrack
to a morose, small-town indie film set in someplace like Nebraska
. . . or Duanesburg). And when it comes right down to it,
the production itself isn’t that lo-fi: Gorch gets
a full and crisp enough sound to befit the arrangements. This
isn’t always an easy listen, but it sounds to me like Gorch
is at his least compromised.
Main Drag (Mellifluid)
There’s a rich history of bands led by a pair of primary songwriters,
from the Beatles (I did say two primary writers) to
the first two albums by the dBs, with plenty of others in
between. Combos fronted by a pair often have a more robust
dynamic than those with three or more vying for equal time.
And with a single writer-singer, the band can become indistinguishable
from the individual.
Pop with muscle, Le Main Drag is the debut by the Bon
Mots, a Chicago-based quartet formed in 2000 by Mike Coy and
Eric Chial. The songwriting credits alternate between the
two of them; the differences in their writing styles reveal
themselves after several listenings, the album flowing as
a seamless whole. Chial’s songs tend to have greater chordal
complexity, while Coy’s draw on exuberant grooves; Coy has
immediacy to Chial’s subtlety. But those lines are not constant,
and there is truly a band at work here, not a project
for two songwriters. There are connections to the Zombies,
Kinks and Hollies, as well as their progeny (the Jam, Undertones,
Church, Costello), but they are not revivalists in the slightest.
They’ve absorbed their influences fully, bringing to mind
a similarly inclined East Coast trio with two main writers,
the Figgs. The arrangements are dynamic, flourishes are never
superfluous. Inside the punch and wallop, the songs are built
on potent melodic character. The singing is committed and
the playing is rich and punchy. What more do you want or need?