wears the trousers magazine

2005/06 reviews dump: f

The following reviews were all published on our old website between May 2005 and December 2006.


Faun Fables
The Transit Rider •••½
Drag City

Anchored by the creative brain of Dawn McCarthy, Faun Fables is a rare breed of band, an avant-garde ensemble whose members appear to be in a near constant state of flux. In more recent years, McCarthy’s closest allies have been prog rock enthusiast Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) and performance artists Jenya Chernoff and Matt Lebofsky. If you were bewitched by 2004’s minor breakthrough The Family Album, you’ll almost certainly love The Transit Rider. Taking the dramatics to a whole new level, the album is based on material of the same-titled theatre show that McCarthy and Frykdahl developed and toured in 2002. Though the band now operates out of California, the idea for the play came about when McCarthy moved to New York and felt hopelessly stuck and held down by the subway system. Troubled by the city’s pace of life, her disconnection from nature’s cycles and rhythms led her to compose an entire song cycle about her situation, which she performed whilst singing, acting, playing instruments and running the tech at the same time.

Slotting nicely into the cycle are powerful and moving interpretations of traditional folk songs, such as ‘House Carpenter’ and an adaptation of Polish songwriter Zygmunt Konieczny’s ‘Taki Pejzaz’, translated into English by McCarthy and friends and gifted a gorgeously intense arrangement. Painting a delicate picture of abject pain, its mood is hard to shift even long after the song has finished. The sheer conviction and humanity of this interpretation is due in no small way to McCarthy’s versatile, expressive vocals (which you can also find stamped all over the new Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy album).

Faun Fables’s own compositions are innovative and have a refreshingly narrative song structure, though sometimes quite bizarre. At the more unusual end of the spectrum lies the opener ‘Birth’, a song that takes train sounds and primal screams and conjoins them in an entrancingly hypnotic introduction. ‘Transit Theme’ is just as bewildering, with its dramatic chord structures and bonkers exclamation of “the tokens are 1.25! / I am the transit rider, open to public violence”. Equally confusing compositions include the slightly pretentious psych folk/prog rock-leaning ‘Fire & Castration’ – imagine Depeche Mode relocated to New Weird America – and the dialogue embracing ‘The Questioning’ (“is this a good way to sit?”…”what if the ceiling were to fall on your head?”…”do you want a piece of heart candy?”).

Despite these few OTT attempts, Faun Fables have generously stuffed the album with interesting and intriguing compositions. ‘In Speed’ is a theatrical, fast- paced portrait of a professional coffee junkie – think businesswoman in suit and trainers clutching a super-size Starbucks – and is spookily accurate. “Let’s speed up without grace and running,” sings Frykdahl in his low voice, adding “you’ve got a nail through your heart.” Elsewhere, ‘Dream On A Train’ and ‘I’d Like To Be’ convince mostly through their heartfelt synopses and carefully explored instruments.

Although it is often slightly confusing and exceedingly abstract, The Transit Rider succeeds as a magical exploration of theatre and music that managed to stir and move the listener. Of course, it might make much more sense if you watch the theatre show too (as is recommended) – then again, it might not! – but unless they bring it to Britain, we of limited funds will just have to enjoy the music and the freedom of imagination.

Anja McCloskey 
originally published October 5th, 2006


Eddi Fiegel
Dream A Little Dream Of Me:
The Life Of ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot ••••
Sidgwick & Jackson

Contrary to popular belief, body fascism did not begin with the birth of Heat magazine in 1999. Nor did it spring from the bowels of inventor Logie Baird when his ‘Televisor’ colonised with alarming speed much of the human race. Even if the fig leaf didn’t quite make Eve’s behind look big in it, the point is that people, and especially women, of a larger size have always had it hard. That’s not to say that television (and to some extent, Heat magazine) never had or no longer has an impact. Since its arrival in the late 1950s, the medium has majorly compounded the fears and insecurities of generations of women. Indeed, while the flower power epoch surely swung, there is also room to reflect on a lesser-known angle – the Slimming Sixties.

The explosion of teen girl pop singers that ushered in the decade put the focus of many promoters firmly on their protégées’ sex appeal. The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Ronettes and their like were all youthful, fresh and distinctly uncurvy. Although dieting was already rife among female performers – Dinah Washington, for example, was a diet pill addict – the added pressure of TV appearances and the dreaded extra projected pounds was immense. Then, as now, a bit of extra baggage could send a career down the dumper. Florence Ballard of The Supremes was one such example, allegedly sacked from the band in 1967 for being overweight, among other things. Nine years later, depressed, lonely and drunk, she died at just 32 years of age.

Ellen Naomi Cohen, better known as ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot also died aged 32. Not as has been so ignobly rumoured by choking on a ham sandwich, but from massive coronary heart failure as she slept, having earlier completed the final show in a wildly successful run of solo performances at the London Palladium. As this tender account of her life reveals, the dichotomy between Cass’s charismatic outward personality and her internal struggle with her own self-image was evident from a young age. Born in Baltimore during World War II and talking by the age of two, as a teenager, Cass was as intelligent and politically aware as many of the adults who surrounded her. Being fat by the age of seven had done nothing to endear her to those her own age and their rejection haunted Cass right to her grave, despite all that she went on to achieve. From her initial faltering efforts to become “the famous fat girl” she so desired to her audacious attempts to break into the group that would become The Mamas & The Papas, Eddi Fiegel carefully picks apart Cass’s famed ambition from her genuine need to be loved. Fiegel’s fondness for her subject, while clearly apparent in every tale, is admirably never allowed to cloud or bias the story. Written over nearly four years and based on more than 100 interviews, what we get here is a mostly sympathetic but balanced account of a well-loved and unique individual.

Where the book becomes unmissable is in Fiegel’s account of the final days of The Mamas & The Papas. As adultery and unrequited love tore them apart before they had even recorded their second album, Elliot’s long struggle to extricate herself from the sorry mess without losing all she had worked for is all too vivid. The band finally folded in October 1967. Elliot’s first solo album, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, followed a year later, and a second, Bubblegum, Lemonade & Something For Mama in 1969. By then, despite having a young daughter (Owen Vanessa Elliot was born in April 1969 and contributes to the book in places), Cass had a significant drug habit and went through a number of damaging relationships with assorted Lotharios and downright spongers. Even at the time of her death, she was engaged in a one-sided relationship with shady promoter George Caldwell who mysteriously disappeared after her death.

As Fiegel notes, however, Elliot wouldn’t have stood for the ‘tragic’ tag so many have lumbered her with. Her independence and resilience defied such lazy thinking. Rarely has a mould been so completely shattered than the one from which Ellen Naomi Cohen emerged – she was the people’s princess before Diana was in training bras. In her introduction, Fiegel tells how rocker David Crosby offered her $100 if she could find a single person who hated Cass. Unsurprisingly, his money went unclaimed.

Alan Pedder
originally published September 3rd, 2005 


Live at the Fleece & Firkin, Bristol •••
June 25th, 2006

Warm-ups, I have realised, are not supposed to be heard by outsiders for a very simple reason – bands invariably sound awful. The singer(s) will undoubtedly be out of tune. Indeed, early on in the evening, heard through the ancient industrial walls of Bristol’s Fleece & Firkin, Fields sound like shrieking banshees in the middle of a massacre of shouty East End market stall holders. This, perhaps, is why half of the audience leave before they’ve even entered the venue. A few manage to convince themselves that it was only the roadies testing the equipment, while fans of the band wonder if singer Thorunn Antonia is in possession of a hideous cold.

So far, not really that good, and the bar staff haven’t even served a drink yet. Fortunately, all is rescued when, taking to the stage ahead of headliners Larrikin Love, Fields launch into ‘Song For The Fields’ and a hundred ears prick up in an instant – “wait a minute, I’ve heard this”. It’s one of those songs that you can’t work out whether they’ve half-inched an opening chord from Bob Dylan or from some indie club classic. People sitting down at the back begin to lean against the walls instead and gradually the whole audience moves towards the stage. At times, Antonia’s voice can seem screechy and at odds with fellow Fields vocalist Nick Peill, but generally the pair have good chemistry. After a seven-song set, including some of the new tracks on their forthcoming EP, notably ‘Roll Down The Hill’, the band depart to the genuine applause of the majority.

From tonight’s performance, it’s clear that Fields are destined to be more than just another support band; they’re fast becoming headline material for smaller venues like the Fleece. With just a little more practice and perhaps a careful eye on the watch so as to ensure the audience hear only what they’re supposed to, Fields may eventually turn into acres.

Tiffany Daniels
originally published July 2nd, 2006


The Fiery Furnaces
Rehearsing My Choir •••
Rough Trade

Those of us still surviving after the Fiery Furnaces’s last long-player (length being a somewhat paradoxical notion in their terms – an ‘EP’ released earlier this year raced in at a heady 41 minutes) are surely deserving of some sort of reward. Blueberry Boat was a challenging beast in no uncertain terms; an extended rock opera invoking the spirit of Tommy, but at times coming across like a tub of acid assaulting a crazed school orchestra. Yes indeed, we who have clung on have the scars to prove it.

Certainly, it’s no idle rhetoric to say that, from the bluesy pop sensation of their cult 2003 debut Gallowsbird’s Bark onwards, Illinois-based siblings Eleanor and Matt Friedburger have always slipped through the grasping fingers of definition. Almost aggressively progressive, but with an effortless cool that The Strokes could never buy, the duo have constantly challenged listeners to absorb their oeuvre in terms of entire albums, rather than songs. It’s an almost quixotic approach in the days of 79p iTunes singles, yet utterly admirable too.

A reward of sorts comes here. In third album Rehearsing My Choir (another, Bitter Tea, is due as early as January), we find a singular conceit truly becoming of the epithet ‘concept’. The album constitutes eleven interwoven tales of Chicago from the 1930s to the 1950s, as told through the eyes and (mostly spoken) vocals of Olga Sarantos, director of the Illinois state choir for over 65 years and, more specifically, the Friedburgers’s grandmother. So bring forth stories of wounded gangsters, dodgy back basement deals and the previously unimaginable hell that is trying to make candy when you’re due to meet your father in-law for the very first time.

On first impression, the Furnaces seem much more at home here. Their tendency to soften bluesy rock into a kind of psychedelic lullaby blossoms under the restraint of shorter songs and narrative focus. Odd instruments are still the main musical nuance and there’s certainly no sign of your everyday verse-chorus-verse, but there are at least splatterings of rhythm and release – ‘The Wayward Granddaughter’ pumps along with the kind of urgency that only a didgeridoo can muster, while ‘We Wrote Letters Every Day’ sticks in the head after only a few listens. It’s this lack of salient obscurity that makes Rehearsing My Choir a much more forgiving prospect. Sarantos’ octogenarian vocals are at once commanding and brusque, yet also disturbingly reminiscent of a female Simpsons’ Barney.

The combination of Eleanor’s matter-of-fact vocals and Matt’s seemingly bottomless box of crazy instruments elevates the tales into circus and vaudeville, and yet the melancholy still slots into place. “We can talk about it, but memories are best often sung” Sarantos tells, or rather scolds us. There’s no doubt the Fieries are fighting against musical form to save us from our own predictable expectations, and to a certain extent they have succeeded in this latest endeavour. Each song floods the imagination with a slice of tasty Americana that’s light years away from the likes of Beck and Cake. For the less adventurous, however, there remains a longing pang for the halcyon days of ultra-catchy tunes and memorable riffs.

Ian Buchan
originally published September 2nd, 2005 


The Fiery Furnaces
Bitter Tea ••••
Rough Trade

Their PR will tell you that The Fiery Furnaces are a “quirky indie-pop duo”, but quirky doesn’t really even begin to cover the bases. The opening track of this fifth album in three years gives the listener a very good idea of what is to come, i.e. anything and everything. So while Eleanor Friedberger’s vocals on opener In ‘My Little Thatched Hut’ conjure up a repetitive, incantatory chant reminiscent of the sinister fairytale aura of PJ Harvey’s ‘Down By The Water’, her brother Matt’s musical mélange tells a whole different story. Tribal drums vie with bursts of electronica, while gentle acoustic guitar is stomped all over by squealing feedback. It’s Underworld meets Natalie Merchant and the resulting scuffle is noisy, unpredictable and thrilling; both parties surface bruised and grinning.

The synth on ‘Darling Black-Hearted Boy’ grates like the theme tune of a ‘70s kids’ TV show, but somehow in a good way, while the title track that follows morphs and warps the previous melody into a frantic Space Invaders-esque sonic landscape of frenzied bleeps and glitches. This is an immediate and exciting record with unpredictability as its buzzword. Eleanor’s spoken word vocal delivery is often reminiscent of Patti Smith, particularly of her ‘Land’ trilogy, and the mystical overtones present on several songs also recall some of the punk poetess’s vintage tracks. Like Smith’s, songs like ‘Oh Sweet Woods’ mix everyday settings – parking lots, anonymous hallways – with a simmering threat of violence and an otherworldly, almost religious presence, invoked here by the presence of the nameless figures pursuing the poem’s central character and the backwards vocals they speak in. It’s an undisputed album highlight, a disturbing narrative set to a funky handclap beat.

Matt played everything on the record, apart from drums, and the music here is so dazzlingly varied that the lyrics occasionally get lost in the maelstrom. But it won’t be long before a line like “till the bulldozers turned us into whole-fruit fruit bar stix and china markers” (‘Borneo’) pulls you out of your musical reverie and boggles your brain even further. The band’s inventiveness has its downside, although it’s a small one – the jagged textures and sudden changes in time signature can become somewhat wearying and you may find yourself longing for a consistent melody, though you’ll struggle to find one across the record’s epic 75 minutes. However, to criticise a band for being too inventive is perhaps unfair; I know who I’d plump for given the choice between the Fieries and any number of the formulaic radio-friendly unit shifters that flood commercial radio stations.

The Fiery Furnaces are a highly prolific band who are still brimming (overflowing even) with ideas. And though they may bewilder and occasionally frustrate, they more than compensate for this with their sheer originality and experimental verve. Those searching for classic pop song structure will find it (nearly) on ‘Benton Harbour Blues’; those searching for pretty much anything else – ‘70s punk meets the ‘Grange Hill’ theme tune anyone? – will probably find it here too. See, everybody’s happy!

Danny Weddup
originally published June 5th, 2006 


50 Foot Wave
Golden Ocean ••••

Fifty feet is pretty big if you think about it, and by thinking I mean Googling, and by Googling you’ll find it’s an oddly common anecdotal measure. Only the other week, for instance, a man was walking his dog Charlie along the Great Orme cliff in Cardiff when he heard a splash from the ocean 50 feet below. “Gosh, did you hear that, Charlie”, the man may have wondered before realising that yes, Charlie had indeed heard it because Charlie was it (www.dogsinthenews.com, we love you!). But while some might find such a chestnut of interest, we at Wears The Trousers are suckers for useless, distilled fact. Indeed, to this reporter, drilling through to the no-frills zone provides as much lascivious pleasure as a tabloid gossip column does to others. So, here we go again… 50 feet is equal to the world record for women’s triple jump, a third of the height of the leaning tower of Pisa, the distance from the chin of the Sphynx to the sand it sits on and the size of a certain Queenie, according to our Peej. Oh, and it’s also the height to which this remarkable band aspire.

50 Foot Wave are two-thirds Throwing Muses (singer/guitarist Kristin Hersh and bassist Bernard Georges) and one-third drummer Rob Ahlers, and this is their first full-length album following last year’s delightfully noisy eponymous EP. Put quite simply, the trio’s deliveries are tight and piping hot, and what the songs of Golden Ocean lack in the complexity shown by some of their peers, the band’s dynamic power and crisp, razor-sharp playing more than make up for it. But that’s not to say these tunes are simple, no sir. They’re sneaky and infectious, coming up from behind to smack you with a six-string and leave you begging for more.

Those more familiar with the Muses and with Hersh’s intermittently sedate solo work may have difficulties reconciling the snarling frontwoman of 50 Foot Wave with their beloved indie rock heroine and married mother of four. Golden Ocean is fast and nasty in comparison, drenched in the feedback and power chords that can turn an ugly grunge-rock duckling into a bloody great vicious black swan. In my view, rock has been missing the hissing for far too long (same goes for handclaps, but more about that some other time). Every song seems to have some kind of story behind it, but that layer is better absorbed once your body recovers from the initial reverberations.

Golden Ocean may just awaken the inner mosh monster in anyone who hears it. ‘Long Painting’ and ‘Dog Days’ in particular conjure the blinding strobe and pointy elbows of a lost youth. It’s that rare rock beast that succeeds in really making a statement and will amply reward any Daisy Chainsaw, Husker Dü, Pixies or L7 fans looking for something familiar but new.

Endre Buzogány
originally published November 7th, 2005 


Kat Flint
The Secret Boys Club EP ••••
Naz Recordings

In case you haven’t discovered her yet, believe me when I say that Kat Flint is a rare and wonderful find; recently awarded the New Lyricist Award by Channel 4, her lyrics are beautifully crafted to speak of the dangers and joys of modern life. The Secret Boys Club EP is released through Rough Trade Shops and is doing very well indeed, deservedly topping the sales of even major artists such as Arctic Monkeys and Dirty Pretty Things. 

Flint has the same vocal presence as every great female solo artist; perfect and simultaneously unique. Her songs, rightfully described as “a love letter to the children we were, the adults we become and the places we make for ourselves in the world”, are deliciously nostalgic, craving the innocence we had when we were but young ‘uns. That said, it’s not simply fanciful whimsy either. Flint is smart enough to realise that we may be able to look to the past, but we’re constantly shuffling forward. ‘Anticlimax’ neatly surmises the EP’s spirit with the admirably economical lyrics, “because all I need is time, to grow up, to grow forward and to grow wise”.

Flint has the same vocal presence as every great female solo artist; perfect and simultaneously unique. Her songs, rightfully described as “a love letter to the children we were, the adults we become and the places we make for ourselves in the world”, are deliciously nostalgic, craving the innocence we had when we were but young ‘uns. That said, it’s not simply fanciful whimsy either. Flint is smart enough to realise that we may be able to look to the past, but we’re constantly shuffling forward. ‘Anticlimax’ neatly surmises the EP’s spirit with the admirably economical lyrics, “because all I need is time, to grow up, to grow forward and to grow wise”.

Opener ‘Fearsome Crowd’, arguably Flint’s masterpiece thus far, is a paranoid tale of love, childhood and surviving both, while ‘Ohio’ tells of the more sinister side of modern life, recounting a tale of prostitution in junkyards. Elsewhere, ‘Headrush’ finds Flint pleading for the Apocalypse, while ‘The Blinking’ and ‘London Lullaby’ make for an engaging pair of bitterly honest ballads.

Magical is often an overused description in the musical world, but it truly applies to this particular lady. Ironically, despite the indie uprising of recent years, her category has been partially ignored and similar talents dropped by labels; if The Secret Boys Club EP is similarly ignored, it would be a criminal offence. Don’t let it happen.

Tiffany Daniels
originally published June 16th, 2006 


Josephine Foster
A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing ••••

With A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, opera school dropout turned freak-folk songstress extraordinaire Josephine Foster has created a wonderful album free of form and conformity. It is a rather unconventional and exceedingly brave take on 19th Century German Lieder, which many regard as one of the classic schools of songwriting. Composers such as Schumann, Brahms and Schubert created wonderful and delicate works using the lyrics of the literary geniuses of the romantic era including Goethe and Eichendorff. Naturally, these compositions have been performed and recorded many times, yet Foster has found a way to filter them through a unique and magical lens using a mix of modern and classical instruments and a sound that reminds one of church recordings of the early 1900s.

‘An Die Musik’, Schubert’s ode to the wonders of music, opens the seven-song suite. Sounding at first quiet and delicate with rhythmical strumming and Foster’s angelic vocals, it soon develops into an electric guitar workout in which the instruments are played lazily and messily, giving one of the world’s most famous classical works a rather outlandish sound. ‘Der König in Thule’, also a Schubert composition, embraces the evanescence of love and life. A rough sounding electric guitar in lead melody accompanied by a softer countermelody sounds at first strangely modern, but after several listens appears effortlessly cool, Foster’s versatile vocal adding to her straightforward, honest adaptation.

Everything on this album has been played to emotional perfection. Foster has clearly been indulged with complete artistic freedom. It’s refreshing to listen to delicate and moving songs that have not been pushed to alien-sounding technical precision by commercially driven producers. Wolf’s ‘Verschwiegene Liebe’, a longing ode to the freedom of thought, and Brahms’s ‘Die Schwestern’, a wonderful and sound-layered piece about the unextinguishable bond between sisters, both strongly benefit from Foster’s approach; free from constraint, heavenly and moving. The instrumentation and arrangements are almost playful, always responding to the call of Foster’s voice. Schumann’s ‘Wehmut’ and ‘Auf einer Burg’ and Schubert’s ‘Nähe des Geliebten’ have such a strong recording approach, it’s as if you were discovering original works by this dark, delicious enchantress.

The songs may date back over 100 years, but in Foster’s fair and capable hands the dust never settles on these dramatic and arresting interpretations. Startling stuff.

Anja McCloskey
originally published June 12th, 2006


Lily Fraser
Lily Fraser ••••

How often do we see overused phrases like “a stunning debut from a truly original new talent”? And how often does it in fact refer to a rehashing, albeit an accomplished one, of whatever is the flavour of the moment? It’s rare enough to happen across something that really strikes you as being original, let alone taking you somewhere you’ve never quite been before, but this eponymous debut recording (it’s not an ‘album’ as such, more a collection of demos) by Lily Fraser may just be one of those happy exceptions.

Necessarily, then, it’s something of an arduous task to pick out suitable comparators for the purpose of describing the music. Broad and sweeping statements are precluded and more targeted comments may only reflect an instant or two. In one lyrical section, the phrasing recalls Fish’s unusual stream of consciousness scanning – but this is no Marillion album; in another, there’s a hint of Siouxsie Sioux – but this is no post-punk proto-goth; in another still, the carefully deployed theatrics and production resemble Freddy Mercury’s more whimsical moments – but this is certainly not A Night At The Opera. Enough befuddled reviewer excuses you say? Well then, if compare we must, the readiest benchmark that comes to mind is Kate Bush; not primarily because Fraser shares that auteur’s fragile but powerful upper register and falsetto, but more the inventiveness she infuses into her four-minute dysfunctional psycho-dramas. That said, the vocal performances throughout are uniformly stunning, swooping down from an angelic choir into a dark, vengeful siren in the space of just a few notes.

The unusual mix of instruments certainly helps to set the tone. Magical washes of harp and haunting cello create an ominous musical subtext, particularly on tracks like ‘Exposed’ where the two instruments are played in a manner that could only be referred to as riffing. Urgency is also found in opener ‘Shout It Out’ with its dance-based rhythms and Fraser’s insistent vocal setting out a manifesto for what is to come. It’s as if communicating her thoughts is a psychological imperative, not just a collection of ditties. ‘Man To Man’ presents an ironic hymn to the glorious sadness of low self-esteem and the futility of seeking real significance in meaningless sexual encounters, while ‘Beautiful Life’ restores the yang to the previous yin by showing that even in life’s shady undergrowth lies beauty and value. ‘About You’ introduces an air of melodrama, with a 1930s matinee idol introduction setting the tone for a scathing attack on the stunted emotions of certain men, while ‘Disagree’ and ‘It’s You’ echo the sombre danse macabre. The juxtaposition of moods seen with the warm, meditative ‘Which One Am I?’- a slice of bluesy, Gothic folk á la All About Eve – and ‘Old Devil Shine’, which spins a cautionary noir yarn, its timeless mood contrasting with unsettling gramophone-textured vocal sections, is undeniably affecting.

Impending tragedy and Victorian melodrama are very much the order of the day with Fraser, and the sheer depth and quality of the recording is little short of breathtaking. On the basis of these first though hardly tentative steps, it is clear that she and her unconventional blend of simultaneously engaging and disturbing sounds are close to creating a Kick Inside for the 21st Century.

Trevor Raggatt
originally published March 31st, 2006 


Edith Frost
Calling Over Time ••••
Telescopic •••½
Wonder Wonder ••••
Drag City

Edith Frost is living, wonderful and irrefutable proof that even cowgirls really do get the blues. Her knack with a minor key and simple but never underspun stories is, or should be, the envy of many. Why she is not revered in wider circles remains a mystery – one that may well be favourably and deservedly solved when her long-awaited fourth album It’s A Game is released later this year. As a generous precursor to this long anticipated arrival, Drag City has graciously reissued all three of her previous efforts to reacquaint us with their charge.

Signed to the label in 1994 after mailing in a copy of her demo alongside a fan letter to Drag City luminary Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), Frost’s first release was a self-titled EP fashioned out of those very same four-tracks. It was followed in 1997 by the album Calling Over Time, an unprepossessing gem of a record showcasing a voice not much unlike a Patsy Cline for the modern disaffected. In the wake of a painful divorce, Texan-born Frost, then aged 31, relocated to Chicago from New York where she had been playing in a number of long-forgotten bands. Having befriended members of the Drag City stable and other Chicagoan icons of indie, including Gastr Del Sol, Rian Murphy, Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo and The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan, the sessions for Calling Over Time certainly had no shortage of talent in the studio. That the results live and breathe as they do (albeit with a slight sense of spacey disconnectedness) is testament to the skilful pool of players. The lasting sense is one of reassuring melancholia; that is to say, her songs are rarely depressing – they’re a little too detached and distant for such extremities – but somehow comforting in their minimalistic mulling over of fate’s crueller twists. Standout tracks include the divorce bruiser ‘Temporary Loan’, the achingly pragmatic ‘Too Happy’, the heartbreaking ‘Wash Of Water’ and the weary defeatism of ‘Albany Blues’.

Frost returned the following year with the even hazier but more meaty Telescopic. Opening with the fuzz-strewn lo-fi indie pop of ‘Walk On The Fire’, a dark and mournfully menacing song that early Liz Phair would have chewed an arm off for, the album signalled a clear progression from its sparser predecessor. Production duties were fulfilled by the curiously monikered Adam & Eve, better known as Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema of Drag City signings Royal Trux. Other contributions came from the ever-present Rian Murphy and Tsunami’s Amy Domingues. Lyrically, Telescopic mostly offers more of the same soul-searching of her previous releases, with one notable exception. ‘You Belong To No One’ is a cabaret revenge song, a sashaying fuck-you that runs rings around her lonesome schtick and never fails to raise a smile. Musically, ‘Bluish Bells’ is further confirmation of Frost’s ear for an ingratiating mind-trick. Amid pleasingly retro jangly keyboard effects and an inobtrusive fuzz guitar motif lies a melody that’s lifted from an old Willie Nelson song played backwards. The gorgeous ballad, ‘Tender Kiss’, is similarly impressive, mixing violin, flute and a subtle complex programmed drum pattern with some of her finest vocal harmonies.

As mirrored by the simplicity of its quietly dramatic and organic sleeve, Wonder Wonder signified a step away from Telescopic‘s thicker fog of indie aspirations. That’s not to say that Frost had returned to her humbler origins – Wonder Wonder is a much more ambitious and focused record than her previous work, once again featuring Rian Murphy on production and a dozen other players, not to mention Steve Albini as sound engineer. Many of the songs have the feel of a twisted orchestra, but the central stylistic touchstone is subdued and thoughtful country. Songs like the snappy title track and the immensely hummable ‘Cars & Parties’ (surely her great lost single) sit comfortably alongside trickier material. ‘The Fear’ is reminiscent of an eerie midnight walk through a haunted fairground, while ‘True’ is the very definition of desolate. She also gifts us what is surely a country standard in waiting with ‘Honey Please’. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Emmylou Harris cover it at some point in the future. Closing with ‘You’re Decided’, a break up song laced with despair and regret, the listener is left with little doubt that Edith Frost’s ability to convey any emotion precisely and without lyrical excess is a wonder in itself.

Like Cissy, the feet-finding heroine from ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues’, Edith Frost has hitched a ride with many a kind friend, travelling with them through a myriad of musical landscapes. Ultimately though, she has been at the helm of her own evolution and these timely reissues should plenty whet the appetites of fans of Lisa Germano, Cat Power, Barbara Manning, and, of course, Will Oldham before the next instalment comes along.

Alan Pedder
originally published August 22nd, 2005 


Hannah Fury
Subterfuge EP ••••

Self-styled Trauma Queen Hannah Fury has at last shuffled off her musical slumber. It’s been six long years since her unsettling debut album, The Thing That Feels, and three since her last EP. What has she been doing? Well, not losing one iota of her touch for a start; Subterfuge is the most sinister thing to come out of Texas since the Bush Administration, and all the better for it. Kicking off with a deliciously subversive, almost perverse take on The Turtles’ 1969 hit ‘You Showed Me’, Fury teasingly twists and plays with the melody and phrasing to great effect. And while it’s not as nakedly ambitious or successful as her gloriously gut-wrenching cover of ABBA’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ (from 2001’s sublime Meathook EP), it sets up Subterfuge’s overarching ‘love me or else’ theme very nicely indeed.

The sheer intensity of ‘My Next Victim’ continues this motif, with hell hath no fury lyrics like “you don’t want none of my sugar / you just want that skanky snatch, no offense to her” delivered with an eerie and unwavering focus, its very matter-of-factness recalling Lisa Germano’s ‘…A Psychopath’ reverse engineered and seen through an opiate haze. The fabulously titled ‘Girls That Glitter Love The Dark’ is equally impressive with its From The Choirgirl Hotel-era Tori Amos flourishes and lush, hypnotic multi-tracked vocals. Illuminating couplets like “girls that glitter defile hope / we think that love is just tightening that sad little rope” languish in the mix with a general air of self-destructive obsession.

But perhaps the finest distillation of Fury’s particular brand of musical malaise is the multimedia track, ‘Carnival Justice (The Gloves Are Off) Part II’. Whether heard alone or in tandem with Chris Ohlson’s creepy video featuring a pair of custom-made marionettes (The Queen of Hearts and Anathema Rose to their friends), it’s an undeniably spine-tingling experience. So precisely layered are the distorted, whispery vocals, it’s almost as if she were singing in parseltongue. Needless to say, it’s the kind of song that the religious far right would love to play backwards in fear (hope?) of finding an ode to the devil. Which would be rather silly regardless, because they would then miss out on some of Fury’s best writing to date – “if you think you scored, your vision must be blurred / welcome one and all to the Theatre of the Absurd / mmmmmy heart is like the Moulin Rouge / all lit up in subterfuge” – with all its Jean Genet-conjuring dramaturgy.

Whether or not Fury intends a literal interpretation of ‘A Latch To Open’s closing sound effect of an emancipated bird fleeing its prison (and I’m inclined to believe she doesn’t), it’s tempting to see it as something symbolic. A brusque farewell to writer’s block, perhaps. For as wonderful as this enchanting EP undoubtedly is, it’s ostensibly a prelude to a far greater prize; that long-awaited full-length coming later this year. Amen!

Alan Pedder
originally published February 20th, 2006