wears the trousers magazine

girls in trouble: girls in trouble (2009)
December 10, 2009, 9:01 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

Girls In Trouble
Girls In Trouble ••••½

Trips to Jerusalem can do strange things to a person. There is a syndrome known to Holy City head doctors where a visitor from overseas arrives and before they are due to leave somehow discovers they are a promised prophet, an unlikely messiah, or have been divinely sent to reinterpret the Biblical narrative anew. Some stay for decades, harmlessly beating the drum for their prophethood, a colourful nuisance in flowing robes and ubiquitous sandals, big screen-learnt parodies of millennia old spiritual traditions.

New York’s Alicia Jo Rabins, the one-woman multi-instrumentalist behind Girls In Trouble, spent two years in that beautiful, blighted and most contested of cities, studying Biblical texts and reaching her own conclusions. Far from turning half-mad, she made the trip to escape the busy insanity of the globe’s premier metropolis and the artsy, rootless pretension of much that she saw on the performance poetry scene from which she emerged. Between the parodies of two cities, one ancient, one modern, Rabins (a Hebrew name derived from Rabbinical) sought to carve some space for a few forgotten narratives to be retold: these are stories of Biblical women whose lives have been lost in the grand teleology of the male dominated religious traditions that use the texts as the wellspring of their authority.

From fundamentalists to liberals, few theologians of the Abrahamic faiths have ever granted women more than a supporting role in the drama of divine revelation. Rabins searches not for overarching purpose in the stories of her selected figures, but instead takes a first-person, in-dwelling approach that humanises people long consigned to distant desert dust. Girls In Trouble is about the universality of emotion found in the particulars of individual lives. The drumbeats of opening track ‘I Was A Desert’ could lure you thinking you were about to be party to a soundtrack to a sand and sandals epic, but the distinctly Anglo-American folk sweetness of the melody would never accompany a semi-clad messiah riding into a walled city. Instead, Rabins tells of boundaries being transgressed in an age-old inversion of the night-visiting song, the protagonist in this instance being a young woman drawn to admire an angry lion of a man made gentle through sleep.

‘Secrets / You’re Always Watching’ begins with swooshing Hammond pop urgency, as the details of a prescribed life lived under constant supervision leads to the creation of an elaborate internal emotional geography where the narrator can truly be free from the brutalities of her husband. It’s an account which has echoes in the lives of people living under totalitarian regimes who protect the impulses of their most secret selves from the prying eyes of the state. ‘Mountain / When My Father Came Back’ has a once-upon-a-time quality as a father who had bargained his safe return from war with a promise to offer the first creature he saw as a sacrifice to god meets with his devoted daughter. This sweetly sung pace changer of Biblical infanticide builds to an horrific conclusion; granted a month’s respite in the forest before her father drags her to the top of a mountain, high-raised knife in hand, her murder is stayed only by an intervening angel. A ‘this is how it happened’ coldness pervades the vocal, as if nothing out of the ordinary was taking place.

The gentle acoustic guitar and bass drum of ‘Snow / Scorpions & Spiders’ finds a kindhearted woman misnamed as bitter from birth banished to the mountain for seven days as punishment for defying an angry father and a distant god. Her friends on the mountaintop are those misunderstood creepy creatures of the title, who share her shade as the sun rises. Far from being a punishing experience, the narrator finds a freedom in the solitude of nature far removed from the strictures of her earthly father and the interpreted will of a heavenly patriarch. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful and neatly complete song of outsider solidarity between the silent and the silenced, and a standout moment on the album. The reprise of ‘A Lion At Rest’ immediately takes us back to the vulnerability of the great sleeping hero of the opening song, before it segues into closing number ‘Where You Go’. Dealing with the age-old theme of tireless devoted love, it’s a beautifully played and tentatively short piece of tender acoustic simplicity. Totally timeless, the sentiment is one shared by anyone in any culture or time who has ever fallen in love.

Girls In Trouble is one of those albums that really has to be heard to be believed, to fully grasp the accomplishments of its creator. Rabins has used her scholar’s head and poet’s heart to give personality to the long-buried women of her songs. Their tales are extraordinary, yes, but they resonate down the millennia when told by such by such a consummate storyteller.

Martyn Clayton
UK release date: 03/11/09; www.myspace.com/girlsintroublemusic

‘Snow / Scorpions & Spiders’ [live]

‘Hunter / The Bee Lays Her Honey’ [live]


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