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Blood Makes Noise
By Bill Ketzer

Roxy Saint
The 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 horniness.

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.

Ed Gorch
Coward (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.

Gorch 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.

—Erik Hage

The Bon Mots
Le 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?

—David Greenberger


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