October 5, 2010

Charming Hostess Sarajevo Blues
avant-folk, experimental-rock, Jewish music, a cappella, beatboxing

Charming Hostess are a Californian group, consisting of Jewlia Eisenberg, Marika Hughes and Cynthia Taylor, who describe themselves as “nerdy hippy commie folk.” Active since the mid-90s, they used to be part of a strong avant-folk, genderfuck, performing arts movement located out of Oakland. 2004’s Sarajevo Blues is their second studio album, and is an adaptation of a book of poetry (of the same name) by Semezdin Mehmedinović, which was first released in 1992 and detailed Mehmedinović’s day-to-day life, hardships and extraordinary experiences during the Bosnian siege. The music here is a fascinating, idiosyncratic brew of traditional Jewish songcraft, contemporary rock music, a cappella and eastern-European folk, and draws strong influences from Balkan, African and Sufi musical styles. Comparison points are really hard to come by, although the group cite Meredith Monk as an influence, which is evident from the experimental, diverse and extremely dynamic vocals employed by the trio, all three of whom sing. Throughout Sarajevo Blues, they touch on classical, syncopated funk, frantic breath-heavy delivery and even attention-grabbing beatboxing, something that initially seems sharply out of place, but starts to really enhance the album the more you hear it. The vocals are gorgeously executed throughout, and I especially love the moments in songs like “Viva Orduenya”, “War” and “Death is a Job” where they adjust key to take a more bluesy turn. The nature of the album gives way to some very candid and forthright lyrics, with powerful verses on everything from the nightmare Charming Hostess - Sarajevo Bluesof entering Sarajevo by an underground tunnel (“There’s not enough air. I lay in a wide spot made to put aside dead, so the live can pass through”) to a striking commentary on wartime photographers (“If a bullet hit me they’d get a shot worth so much more than my life that I’m not even sure who to hate: the sniper or the monkey with a Nikon”). It’s a constantly fascinating album – and a surprisingly catchy one – that sounds quite unlike anything else I’ve heard before.



August 11, 2010

Carla Bozulich – Evangelista
singer/songwriter, avant-folk

Evangelista kicks off with the lengthy “Evangelista I”, which is simply one of the most gut-wrenching, intense and emotionally powerful songs of the decade. It opens the album with such force and conviction that all the remaining tracks – wonderful as they are, particularly centrepiece “Baby, That’s the Creeps” – can initially feel like something of an afterthought. Carla Bozulich - EvangelistaBozulich’s brand of gothic folk/country is immediately unique, taking a select few recognisable influences and then submerging them in a dark wash of spare guitar melodies, drifting organs, distant, brush-based percussion, psuedo-industrial sound collaging, liberally applied distortion and spacious, labyrinthine song structures, all of which lend the album a constant sense of dislocation and unease, as though the songs might be swallowed up by darkness at any moment. Bozulich’s ghostly vocal style wavers along the various stages between a barely-there, etherial whisper and a gutsy, attention-holding howl, making for an amazing performance, as she purges her deepest emotional turmoil on every track to create something that’s often harrowing, yet also strangely beautiful and moving. What it boils down to is that Evangelista is one of the decade’s most idiosyncratic, unforgettable recordings – this is music that stays with you long after the album rolls to a close.