Unwound, Leaves Turn Inside You (Kill Rock Stars)

Unwound - Leaves Turn Inside You Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You
Kill Rock Stars
By: Eric Greenwood

Unwound is finally back, but you may not recognize the sound. The trio's seventh album is far and away its most ambitious and musically diverse. The departure is immediately obvious. Where past albums like New Plastic Ideas and Repetition balanced odd syncopation with controlled noise and punk structures, Leaves Turn Inside You abandons much of the chaos and explores a more melodious however experimental side. Most conspicuous is guitarist/vocalist Justin Trosper's vocal tone. His bratty half-yell has morphed into full-fledged singing. No more bored detachment and monotone inflections- Trosper has replaced them with a softer, more delicate and sentient tone. This is still Unwound- just a more musically adept, experimental, and confident one.

Leaves Turn Inside You is a double-album- Unwound's first, and it is the band's most fully realized musical achievement. Trosper and bassist, Vern Rumsey, built their own home studio to avoid the time constraints of recording in a big studio on somebody else's dollar. The result is a less spontaneous but meatier batch of songs. Unwound has never eschewed the use of effects, and they are now an integral part of the band's sound, ranging from keyboards, strings, and odd percussion to massive atmospheric layering and multi-tracked vocals. The songs match intricacy with an unforeseen grace. Melody is no alien concept to Unwound, but previous albums like The Future Of What certainly forsook it for abrasiveness. Blame that on the stubbornness of youth or punk ethos- it doesn’t really matter now because Unwound has found its future.

“We Invent You” is a shocking opener. I had to double-check the label to make sure I had the correct disc playing. Ghostly keyboards engulf a simple, clean guitar melody and Trosper's newly developed harmonies. The absence of bass gives the song an ephemeral feel, although Sara Lund's robust drumming certainly holds it together. Unwound has never let its guard down like this before. Trosper sounds so open and vulnerable when he promises: “I'm coming soon.” “Look A Ghost” is slightly more familiar with its winding arpeggio, but still Trosper's breathy vocal takes some getting used to. “December” is the first song where Rumsey's bass unfurls with its patented, snaky attack. Three years has totally reinvigorated and redefined Unwound.

The band's last full-length, 1998's Challenge For A Civilized Society, hinted at some of the new directions explored here, but it relied too heavily on established sound structures that were definitively 'Unwound.' That album also lacked the energy and intensity of the band's early output, despite being a solid album in its own right. Unwound had taken its formula to its necessary end, and there was nothing left to discover. Leaves Turn Inside You clears a brand new path for the future. Epic tracks like “Terminus I-II-III” celebrate such new found freedom. Orchestral strings sweep in four minutes into the song while the guitar and bass erupt in manic interplay. After a climax of screeching strings the song switches gears completely, kicking into a mesmerizing groove comprised of dueling guitar overdubs, warm analogue keyboards, and subdued but tight rhythms.

“Demons Sing Love Songs” is easily one of the finest songs Unwound has ever written with its velvetly riffs, haunting keyboards, propulsive drumming, and Trosper's most beautiful and affecting vocals yet. The effects-laden chorus sends shivers down the spine. It's slightly distant and sad, but it's got a gorgeous hook. “Off This Century” is the first song on the album to revisit blatantly Unwound's aggressive past. The harsh staccato guitars swell over Rumsey's thick, entangling bass. Trosper lets loose vocally too- not quite reaching the extremes of his early days because of the obscuring effects, but the tension is duly noted. So as not to seem too comfortable the band throws in loads of odd tonal shifts and layers of washed out keyboards.

“One Lick Less” sounds like an organic version of Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine but heavier and more potent. Trosper indulges his lower vocal register, which hangs beneath the meandering swell of guitar noise. It all ebbs and flows in long, languid waves. Truly unbelievable stuff. “October All Over” blends a wiry guitar/bass exchange with an awkward but danceable disco beat. Trosper's insular vocals pan in one ear while the intricate guitars uncoil in the other. Only a band that's been together as long as Unwound could pull off such complicated dynamics. Trosper's sprawling guitar playing alone can rip your heart out, tear it to pieces, and stitch it all back together again, as he proves on the eerily moving “Summer Freeze.”

In the wake of the post-Nirvana signing frenzy in 1994, major labels tried to tempt Unwound into sucking off the corporate teat. The band wisely opted to remain independent with its home at Kill Rock Stars, sacrificing short-term fame for long term artistry. This all but guaranteed the band would never see success on the level of some of its less principled peers. But even if Unwound were never to break out of the stable underground, where it has amassed a reverent following in ten years of recording and touring, it's influence will continue to spread, eventually clawing its way to the surface. Albums like this one ensure it. Leaves Turn Inside You is a monumental album by a monumental band.

Rocket From The Crypt, Group Sounds (Vagrant)

Rocket From The Crypt - Group Sounds Rocket From The Crypt
Group Sounds
By: Eric Greenwood

Ten years after its aggressive debut, Paint As A Fragrance, Rocket From The Crypt is still churning out a raucous blend of fifties rock and roll, garage punk, and rockabilly guitar machismo complete with inter-stellar horns. The band may have been through a predictably messy major label bout, but that has only strengthened the rock assault. Bandleader John Reis sounds just as fired up as he did on the band's Cargo Records breakthrough, Circa Now, in 1992. The band's fifth studio album, Group Sounds, is a message to its legions of fans that Rocket From The Crypt is back in a big way.

It was inevitable that Rocket From The Crypt would slow down in the late 90's after the slew of releases that even the biggest fans had a hard time keeping up with. Reis, who at the time was in two of the most touted bands simultaneously (Rocket From The Crypt and Drive Like Jehu), was bound to hit a wall. There was a time when it seemed like a new Rocket From The Crypt seven-inch came out almost every week (some of which easily outshined other bands' entire albums). That kind of market saturation would burn any man or band out and with the release of Scream Dracula Scream in 1995, there were definite signs that Rocket From The Crypt was running out of fuel (despite the vinyl-only release of the amazing Hot Charity that same year). The formula had just become more predictable than rocking. Although, 1998's RFTC was a marked improvement, the band's ubiquitous presence had all but vanished.

Recently, Reis has indulged in some solo work, releasing an album showcasing his dissonant yet fiery guitar skills under the moniker Back Off Cupids. He also reunited with Drive Like Jehu's vitriolic vocalist, Rick Froberg, for a band called Hot Snakes (even though its album Automatic Midnight was a clear extension of Drive Like Jehu's thunderous math punk destruction). Getting Rocket From The Crypt back together was the next logical step, and what a rebirth Group Sounds is. This time without major label dollars to blow and an ex-Journey producer at the helm, the band sounds less sonically massive but just as explosive and rocking as its heyday.

The first five songs blow by before you can even register the energy and mayhem Reis and his longtime bandmates have stirred up (founding drummer Atom is replaced by newcomer Ruby Mars even though Superchunk's Jon Wurster played drums on over half the album). "Straight American Slave" kicks things off in classic Rocket From The Crypt style. A crunching guitar riff underscores one of Reis' famously catchy choruses. His gruff, Eddie Cochran-style vocals lead the onslaught of horns and guitars. "Carne Voodoo" is like a punch in the face with its breakneck punk rhythms. The horns really stand out on these songs, carrying alternate but complementary melodies.

Group Sounds is a classic party record from start to finish. Reis' tendency for call and response choruses only enhances the fun inherent to the band's rousing energy. The greasy biker pose is sure to lure the ladies in on songs like "Return Of The Liar." These songs really sound like Rocket From The Crypt hasn't taken a day off in ten years. "Heart Of A Rat" not only satiates Ramones-style punk appetites, but also proves that a song can rock even when it's played at half the anticipated speed. "Savoir Faire" is so instantly catchy you feel like you know the words the moment Reis spews them out. And how about that intro guitar riff? Group Sounds is unstoppable- it's just one hit after another.

"S.O.S." is another half-speed surprise that proves there's no bottom to Reis' bag of memorable hooks. Again, the horns (saxophone and trumpet) fit in perfectly with each song's fundamental make-up and aren't just used as window dressing. By the time "This Bad Check Is Gonna Stick" bursts through your speakers, you've already added Group Sounds to your personal heavy rotation list. What a testament to Rocket From The Crypt's longevity and importance Group Sounds is. How many bands can sound this fresh after a decade of blistering rock and roll? And to think I almost yawned when this album arrived. I should kick myself for having doubted Rocket From The Crypt for a second.

Ladytron, 604 (Emperor Norton)

Ladytron - 604 Ladytron
Emperor Norton
By: Patrick Doherty

You knew it was just a matter of time before someone would try to cross icy new-wave with Japanese electro-pop and German isolationism, but who would have thought it would sound like this? Ladytron punches giant holes in the stereotype of new new-wavers as self-referential nerds with the release of 604.

Critics on both sides of the Atlantic have been hard pressed to describe Ladytron’s sound without succumbing to the usual "futuristic" and "retro-new-wave" terms, and this review is no exception. But 604 proves there's more to Ladytron than just a kitschy 1980's synth-pop rehashing. It is most definitely new new-wave: there are endless Casio loops and distorted, deadpan female vocals. So yes, it has that retro-futuristic edge, but what sets 604 apart is the distinct lack of kitsch. Ladytron isn't joking. New wave isn't a walk down memory lane for the band- it's a lifestyle. Good thing the band has an arsenal of melodies to back it up.

The pop hooks on 604 are certainly well crafted, but they don't stay with you for long. Ladytron has lain the groundwork carefully, making all the right noises, but the songs still need some work before I can wholly recommend them. The Casios are layered tightly- not just randomly inserted for show. The lyrics are dark and somewhat disturbing for a band that seems so fun on the surface. Ladytron may in fact be the first new new-wave band to try to sell itself as the de facto future of pop music, as opposed to a tongue-in-cheek reference to the past. The songs carry an aura of punk ethos- a trait shared with Devo, and the result is a transparency of spirit and genuineness that is hard to spot in similarly motivated bands like Baxendale and Barcelona, among others.

The best evidence for this conclusion is the lyrical content. It tends to revolve around emotional isolation and despondency and thankfully not around Atari games or the essence of being a kitchen appliance. “I didn’t feel a thing when you told me that/you didn’t feel a thing when I told you that/I didn’t feel a thing” from "Another Breakfast With You" reveals the ambiguity and dejectedness typical of 604's lyrics. Need more proof? "I know her/used to follow everywhere we’d go/and it’s so sweet/now she’s sleeping with a boy I know/a boy I know/knows a pretty girl in every town/and the way they look/they were made to let each other down” from "Discotraxx." "She’s looking at you/so maybe you’re looking too/do you want to be her or don’t you/of course you do/but would she be you?” from "Jet-Age." 604 is lyrically more serious than you'd expect from nerdy, black clad knob-twiddlers, and for that reason alone Ladytron seems to be staking out territory that its new new-wave contemporaries are not.

Additionally, the major keys tend to be evenly distributed on 604, so that you want to dance but not necessarily with a smile on your face. Much like Blur's mid-1990's output, Ladytron delivers a post-modern sense alienation that is ironic without seeming overly pretentious. Blame it on the British heritage, but it smacks you in the face throughout the record. The less serious songs tend to be instrumentals like the Technique-era New Order homage "Commodore Rock." However, the lyrics expose Ladytron’s collective agenda at every turn.

604 reduces new new-wave pop to a science, albeit an unfinished one. Tight production, clever hooks, dark lyrics, and plenty of Casios make this record hard to dismiss, despite the overwhelming feeling of detachment. It's fun music, but it won't make you drop everything and buy the band's back catalogue. 604 is a good sign, though, that Ladytron is on the road to a new breed of sound.

Scannerfunk, Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light (Sulphur/beggars Banquet)

Scannerfunk - Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light Scannerfunk
Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light
Sulphur/beggars Banquet
By: Eric Greenwood

Scanner (a.k.a. Robin Rimbaud) abandons his digital voyeurism and phone-scanning fetish long enough to create his first genuinely accessible dance album. His prolific output in the 1990's was comprised mostly of intercepted snippets of phone conversations backed by sparse electronics and techno beats as a sort of commentary on the irony and perversity of technological disconnection. Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light is likely to be viewed as his 'sell-out' album just because it is his most approachable, but Scanner doesn't even remotely verge upon the quasi-commercialism of maverick techno nerds such as Moby.

Adding 'funk' to his moniker is mildly confusing as Scanner clearly avoids anything resembling what Americans think of in terms of 'funk.' No "Jungle Boogie" samples for certain. Scanner may not be afraid to crossbreed genres like a mad scientist, but 'funk' it up he does not. His music is icy cold- just the sort of detached serenity you'd expect from a bald British electronic experimentalist, but at the same time it's also hypnotic and, in some cases, even danceable. 'Electronic minimalism' is what the cultural critics in his circle call it, but Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light is far too dense to pocket in such terms.

"I Am Calm" opens the album with frenetic jungle. Everything sputters in a mass of orchestral noise. Ghostly keyboards hang in limbo above skittering beats and frenetic piano samples. The intermittent repetition of the voice-over narration adds a human element to the controlled chaos, despite its irony. If the music is any indication- he is anything but calm. "Light Turned Down" is a subtle nod to early 1990's house music, but its textural ambient layers prevent it from shaking its experimental sheathing, as if to say "no ravers, please." The sampled voices are barely audible but still hint at Scanner's past. The music tries to soothe you, but the voices remind you that something ominous is afoot.

The smoky keyboards on "Cosy Veneer" enhance its gloomy character. The music bounces along in a repetitive rut, but the spongy digital effects shuffle just above the surface, suspending your attention for more than six minutes. "Automatic" must be the song that inspired Scanner to christen himself with the 'funk' suffix because it's the one with the most outgoing dancefloor appeal. The female voice that lustily repeats the name of the song balances out Scanner's immaculate beats with a hint of deviance. "Ice That Abandons Me" acknowledges hip-hop with its street-wise beat, but Scanner blunts the edge by mixing faux-strings with real violins and stuttered percussion.

Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light is far too safe and cozy to break any barriers musically. Scanner has merely shown his mastery over styles you're already familiar with (even though he does intertwine them in a few strange new ways). I'm sure this album is just a blip on Scanner's radar; he is probably three projects past this one by now, but he had better hurry up and release them because the lowly masses are catching up faster every day.

The Gossip, That’s Not What I Heard (Kill Rock Stars)

The Gossip - That's Not What I Heard The Gossip
That's Not What I Heard
Kill Rock Stars
By: Brooke McDermott

If you caught The Gossip’s opening act for indie darlings Sleater-Kinney last year, then, of course, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the band’s full-length debut. The big question is whether the lead singer’s hip-shaking, hand clapping, and crowd pleasing stage show can be captured on something so impersonal as a compact disc? The answer is a resounding yes. That much personality can't help but ooze out of your speakers. Fourteen tracks in twenty-four minutes are all you need to prove it, too.

Where The Gossip’s onstage antics intrigue, the album's nuances draw you into the depths of the band, focusing on the distinct talents of each member; Mamma’s dark lyrics of a young woman taking life’s punches as they come (but only if she can land a few herself), Kathi’s steady, rockin’ drum beats, and Nathan’s old school greaser guitar riffs add up to an unique mix of swaggering rock and roll. If you’ve never heard of these indie rock freshmen, That’s Not What I Heard is an orientation you don’t want to miss.

This two year old Seattle-based trio is obviously influenced by a wide range of music from gospel and soul to dirty punk and bluesy rock and roll. The fierce combination of reverb-heavy guitar, naked drums and husky vocals mold the band’s modern, rowdy, bluesy-punk sound. “Bones” could be an updated albeit abbreviated version of The Doors' classic “Roadhouse Blues” but with a Stooges-style punk rock twist.

Beth- or "Mamma" as she calls herself- invites you into her dysfunctional family storybook with That’s Not What I Heard. Born and raised in Arkansas, she boasts that there “ain’t no woman like a Southern girl.” Her lyrics, exploding from her guttural vocal chords, explore young lust with poise and illustrate that this dominant Mamma is ashamed of nothing.

Emotionally, Mamma’s songs run the gamut of topics from seduction (“Bring It On”) to love (“Where the Girls Are”) and then, gracefully, on to loneliness (“Heartbeats”). At a world-weary 19 years old, she belts out “why do you wanna hurt me, I ain’t done nothing wrong?” on “Sweet Baby” with unaffected ferocity, showcasing her innocence. Her act is endearing as she attempts to imbue the listener with her hard knock life lessons. She's obviously too young to be so preachy, but that doesn't hinder her confidence as a songwriter in any way. Some of the naivete strips away, though, when she demands things like “baby, give me what I need”- you don't doubt for a second that she won't get it.

Mamma and her family will need to maintain that perfect balance of projected star quality and down home humility to carry them through their own national tour this year. The band definitely has to pull out all the stops to win over the crowds since it doesn't have the benefit of a cushy opening slot for Sleater-Kinney this time around. Beth's attitude is confident, though: “Say it loud, say it clear, Mamma’s home, Mamma’s here!” The Gossip has exploded onto the scene and with a debut album like That’s Not What I Heard,” it's not likely to be forgotten any time soon.

Pixies, Complete ‘b’ Sides (4ad)

Pixies - Complete 'b' Sides Pixies
Complete 'b' Sides
By: Eric Greenwood

Even though this compilation doesn't rival any of the Pixies' classic studio albums, it is still essential listening. The Pixies all-too-brief career unwittingly followed Devo's philosophy (prophesy?) of de-evolution in that every release was just a little bit worse than the one before it. That's nothing to be ashamed of- it happens to most bands and usually with much greater discrepancy between albums than the Pixies ever allowed. None of its albums is without merit, of course- the formula had just gotten a little tired by the time Trompe Le Monde came out in the fall of 1991, yet it rocked all the same. These b-sides span only four years, but they provide swift insight into the maniacal world of Black Francis and his band of lunatics.

The Pixies stormed college radio with its second album, Doolittle, in 1989 and, consequently, bridged the gap between schizophrenic rock and accessible alternative pop. Black Francis' neurotically obsessive songwriting practically invented the dynamic that is ubiquitous to so many bands today. The Pixies were the first band to turn hyperbolic musical changes into an art form that was accessible to more than just snobbish college radio scenesters. Ironically, the loud/soft dynamic that the Pixies exploited changed the face of so-called "underground" music forever by helping to propel Nirvana to superstardom with its "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single, which Kurt Cobain was often quoted as saying was merely a Pixies rip-off.

We all know what happened to Nirvana after that song took off, but by that time the Pixies' star was burning out fast. Nevermind completely overshadowed Trompe Le Monde because it took the Pixies' trademarked dynamic to new extremes, relegating the Pixies back to college radio limbo to peddle its ill-advised parody of The Jesus And Mary Chain's "Head On." The singles off Trompe Le Monde didn't help matters, obviously. Only "Planet Of Sound" showcased any semblance of the band's former ferociousness while "Alec Eiffel" foreshadowed the weird sci-fi pop that Black Francis would explore as Frank Black on his future and mostly uneven solo albums.

Since the Pixies' demise there's been a pretty paltry amount of releases from the vault. The confusing and unnecessary Death To The Pixies was a waste of time as it compiled a bunch of songs any fan surely already had with a bonus live disc that didn't really satiate anyone's appetite for rarities. Pixies At The BBC came one year later, but, again, despite only two random covers, it was predominantly just a bunch of re-recordings of familiar songs. Only now with the release of the Complete 'B' Sides – ten years after the band called it a day – do we get to explore the Pixies' subversive side.

I've always coveted b-sides from bands that I love. Somehow they seem to reveal a closer glimpse into the true world in which a band inhabits. This is certainly true with the Pixies as this compilation of b-sides proves. The alternate take of "River Euphrates" that opens this chronological set is wilder and infinitely more rocking than the version on Surfer Rosa (no offense to Steve Albini), and "Vamos" dares anyone to question the band's live stature. It is a flailing three and a half minutes, featuring Black Francis' cathartic Spanish-English lyrical fusion, Joey Santiago's deranged guitar squawks, and David Lovering's incessantly accurate drumming. The dark center of the Pixies rears its head on another live track- a caustic version of David Lynch's "In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song)" from the film Eraserhead. Black Francis sounds utterly possessed- his voice cracking and splaying amidst all the distortion.

"Manta Ray" ushers in the familiar sounds of the Doolittle period, circa 1989- Kim Deal's rumbling bass line foreshadowing the explosive guitars to follow. It's a regrettable throwaway according to Francis' liner notes, but I dare say, it'd be a shining star on any of the Pixies' peers' albums at the time. The Pixies' hyper-kinetic rock had startling appeal through its infectious pop sensibilities, evidenced by strangely accessible songs like "Weird At My School." The UK Surf version of "Wave Of Mutilation", featured on the Pump Up The Volume soundtrack, stole the thunder from the punkish Doolittle version and became a fan favorite. Kim Deal's raspy, sexy vocals were always a bonus, becoming evermore more precious as they waned with each successive album due to Francis' insistence that the Pixies record his material. They were the perfect companion to Black Francis' skittish bark, and her live staple "Into The White" reminds me why I was not alone in being so enamored of her. "Bailey's Walk" is the finest rarity of this era, though, as it provides a snapshot of the sheer lunacy this band could muster- even in the context of a ballad.

The Bossonova b-sides don't quite live up to their predecessors even though there are a few exceptions. David Lovering's eerie tribute to Debbie Gibson ("Make Believe") is hilarious when you consider the fact that Gibson's fame had all but vanished by the time the "Velouria" single came out in the fall of 1990. Kim Deal's lead vocal on a cover of Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You" just barely outshines her duet with Francis on a second Young homage ("Winterlong"). The Trompe Le Monde b-sides are even less charismatic but anomalies all the same. "Theme From Narc" is a fairly rocking but pointless instrumental interpretation of a video game theme, although it did hint at the tighter rock bravado of the band's final album. "Build High" and 'Evil Hearted You" could've easily replaced "Palace Of The Brine" and the boring "A Letter To Memphis", respectively, to strengthen Trompe Le Monde's erratic sequencing.

It's a shame that a band as abrasive and paradoxical and immediate as the Pixies gave up so easily, especially when you consider how underwhelming both Deal's and Francis' futures were throughout the rest of the 1990's. At least with the Complete 'B' Sides, the Pixies live again, and, almost a decade later, the band still sounds light-years ahead of everyone else.

Fiel Garvie, Vuka Vuka (Noisebox)

Fiel Garvie - Vuka Vuka Fiel Garvie
Vuka Vuka
By: Eric Greenwood

If Kate Bush had an evil twin she might sound like Anne Reekie- emotionally disturbed and angry but still very feminine. The nervous quiver Reekie intones could easily frighten small children. Her vocals refuse to blend with the dark, atmospheric rock that her band weaves around them. Instead, they hiss and slither amidst the warm analogue textures.

Fiel Garvie is very English, and by that I mean artfully pretentious. This Norwich quartet is out to make waves, evidenced by the sado-masochistic artwork, which features a shirtless man in leather pants with multiple piercings sticking his tongue into a candle's open flame. Normally, I would be inclined to write a band off that tried so hard to shock me, but I have to admit I was intrigued. Despite the picture, the packaging is gorgeous.

The band's music is hard to pin down immediately. There's an electronic undercurrent, but guitars definitely carry the songs. There are moments when I am reminded of Kate Bush, but that's mainly because of Reekie's voice, as I've said. Cocteau Twins come to mind, too, but the sound is so much heavier than any of Robin Guthrie's swirling, airy-fairy production. There are gothic overtones to these minor-keyed dirges, but the hooks are not obvious. The band seems to enjoy making you squirm with its neurotic, edgy rock.

"Right Out And Forced" begins the creepshow with Reekie's trembling voice, which sounds delightfully mad as she enunciates each note starkly with that thick Norwich accent. The bass rumbles underneath a clean indie rock guitar riff that morphs into an effects-laden squall in the chorus. "Risk" couldn't sound more out of place following such a bizarre beginning with its simple chord structure and pop sensibility. Reekie's voice ensures that no one will mistake it for an honest ballad, though. Her voice trembles so much you'd swear she were crying. This effect can be annoying at times, but the darker the song the better it works.

"Hold On" switches gears back to eerie rock with spidery guitars and metallic noise effects. I can't help but think of a witch stirring up a pot of flesh and bones when I hear Reekie's breathy, forced vibrato. On "Better Gaze Than Fear" the guitars rise to the occasion and challenge Reekie's dominance of the song. The percussion sounds processed, and there's a textured glaze over the whole song, recalling a hint of The Jesus And Mary Chain's pre-shoegazing wall of noise. The band plays up to its own gothic subtext with haunted house organs on "A Man."

Fiel Garvie's dynamic is minimalism versus a controlled dissonance. The band never really explodes, but the tonal shifts are sudden and distinct when they do happen. A more organic sounding Curve, maybe. Or, perhaps, even a less commercial-sounding Garbage. Again, none of these references are spot on, but there are vague similarities. "Dress Down" dredges up that old Smiths trick of marrying upbeat music with spiteful lyrics. Reekie sings "I loathe you/I hate you/and your dress sense kills me" over a light piano line that merges with dramatic keyboards and booming percussion. The song builds into its noisy conclusion, proving itself an exception to the abrupt loud/soft dynamic typical of the rest of the album.

Vuka Vuka is as intriguing as its artwork. The band is most successful when it matches the tension of Reekie's vocals with equally frightening music. The best example is the nervous and twitchy paranoia of "For What I Love." Reekie's lyrics would sound somewhat campy coming out of any other mouth, but her voice lends credence to the cartoonish nightmares explored on this debut. Vuka Vuka is unquestionably unsettling music. The perfect soundtrack to a supernatural horror film.