Saturday, 24 April 2010


Sky Salt split up in 2007.  You can still purchase their CDs but when they're gone they won't be repressed.   I think they have MP3s available on the usual sites.

I found a couple of old Sky Salt interviews.  This one was done around the time of the release of the Off the Ground EP) and this one was done around the time of the release of I Believe in Fairytales

I haven't been able to find out what happened to the other band members, only Xenia and Mark.  They were playing with Voltaire and his New Wave group The Oddz occasionally.   Xenia also released another CD under the name Doe Deere called Supernatural (which is 80s influenced electro pop).

They are no longer doing their club night Maskara and Xenia is not designing clothes anymore, instead she has been concentrating on her make-up range, Lime Crime (best known for its bright colours) which is now stocked in Space NK stores among others.
She also has an online blog where she posts make-up tutorials and more at
and she's on Twitter


Sky Salt are a New York based band who are attracting rave reviews for their brand of melodic alternative rock combined with a striking visual image.  The band comprise Xenia on vocals, piano and guitar, Mark AD on guitar and Lillie Charlotte on bass.  Xenia is also a talented fashion designer and make-up artist.  Their debut album is called I BELIEVE IN FAIRYTALES and you can check out Xenia's make-up tutorials on

How would you describe your music?  I think your image (particularly that of Mark AD and Lillie Charlotte) is quite Gothic influenced but the music less so.

MARK:   I usually say "fairytale rock."  I think the music is definitely dark, but not so much "gothic".  I'd call it guitar driven, kiss and tell glam, flirting with metal and indulging in a little alternative introspection and irony.  That's all summed up as "fairytale rock" for me.
XENIA:  We coined the term "fairytale rock" because we felt that we didn't really fit into existing categories.  We could say we play "modern rock" but we tend to be a bit more inventive than Nickelback (not offence to those guys).  We could say we are a Visual K band but the closest we've come to being Japanese is having a half Japanese bassist.  We are pretty dark but wouldn't exactly make Siouxsie proud. So yeah, Fairytale Rock!
LILLIE:  I'm --- not really sure what I call it.   I say "Come to our next show and see for yourselves."

You called your album I BELIEVE IN FAIRYTALES.  What is your favourite fairytale and why?

XENIA:  I write my own!  I enjoy Master and Margarita (Bulgakov), Harry Potter and the Brothers Grimm.
LILLIE:  I like Alice in Wonderland, cheesy as it may be to state so, for many reasons.  It was written by a madman to begin with, and I've always seen myself as an Alice-like character.   Misplaced in my own everyday "wonderland."

Xenia, how do you think your Russian background is an influence on your music (if indeed you think it is)?

XENIA:  It's hard to say.  I lived in Russia for 17 years but mostly listened to English-speaking bands.  My "secret" Russian influence is this quirky band called Agata Kristi.  They sing about everything from murderous clowns to glorified drug use in the 1920s and instilled in me the love for creepy music boxes.

You play the piano and guitar.  What do you think are the particular qualities for each instrument (as in how they differ from one another, would you prefer to use one for a sad song, for instance)?

XENIA:   Piano is my first instrument which I have been playing for as long as I can remember.  I am classically trained on piano and music theory.  In my late teens I rejected piano entirely as an instrument as "too lame for rock 'n' roll".  That was when I picked up my first guitar and discovered songwriting!  Today, 80 % of my songs are written on guitar.  I turn to keyboard for certain effects and textures (like the Fairy Tale intro) but guitar is definitely a more universal songwriting tool for me.

What is your favourite song on the album and why?

MARK:  Beautiful --- it just rocks hard and it hints at our love of Alice in Chains without aping their sound completely, which is very easy to do if you're not careful.   It's the essence of fairytale rock and is the defining track of the record in my estimation.
XENIA:  That changes every day!   One day I'm digging on Beautiful, the next I'm all over 2 of a Kind, and the next find myself playing Low on repeat.

Lillie Charlotte has been the newest member to join.  This is for LC --- how did you come to join Sky Salt and what do you like most about the band?

LILLIE:  You'll hear many variations of how I joined Sky Salt, let's suffice to say --- it just sorta happened.  I like the visual style and musical style, since they are both rather similar to my own project.

If you had to do a cover version, which song would you do and why?

MARK:  We actually do mix covers into our live set.  One old standby is Ozzy's "I Just Want You", love that for the epic Ozzy-ness of it.  It's a lighters in the air kind of tune without being cheesy.   We add some piano stylings that make it our own.   It becomes a F'Tale anthem.
We've also done a stripped down version of the Beach Boys classic, "In My Room" which is very haunting with Xenia's voice and altered lyrics about dolls and other elements of her childhood.

The whole band has a very stunning and distinctive style. What other musicians' style do you admire?

XENIA:  Anyone with a strong presence and a penchant for rock star antics.  Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper.
MARK:  I tend to love guitar intensive metal and hard rock .   Zakk Wylde, Alice in Chains, Lillie recently turned me onto to Dir En Grey and I can dig it.  I love violin music --- especially Pagannini.  But at the end of the day, kick ass guitar music gets me going.  Slash, Dimebag (RIP), Van Halen.
LILLIE:  Sonata Arctica totally owns me but I'm a sucker for over-the-top theatrics like Mana's bands Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois.  My biggest influences are probably the bands from the now defunct Key Party record label such as Noir Fleurir, Noi'X, Aliene Ma'riage and Missalina Rei.

As you're such a visual band, I'm really looking forward to seeing any videos you might make for your songs, what sort of imagery would you like to use?

MARK:  Scary little girls in cute dresses a la "The Shining" seems like a good start.
XENIA:  Ditto!  I am an extremely visual person so I think about video representation of our music all the time.  Imagery varies depending on the song but for the most part it's either ethereal little girls (huge fan of Nightmare on Elm Street) or over-the-top rock star shit like white doves flying out of a black Porsche.  "laughs".
LILLIE:   They say the camera adds twenty pounds so I'll wear a dress that won't make me look fat!

Xenia, you also design and make clothes for your own fashion label, Lime Crime.  What other fashion designers do you admire?

XENIA:  Oh man.  Too many to name!  Betsey Johnson, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Heatherette and my friend Yana aka Supayana.

What's been your most memorable gig so far and why?

XENIA:   Tribeca Rock Club --- because it sucked!  Everything that could go wrong did, but we ended up having fun nonetheless.  But oh man, it was definitely one of the most embarrassing shows we've ever done!  Mark offered nudie pics of himself as part of the compensation to the audience but figured it would only add insult to injury.  "laughs".
MARK:  The most memorable show?  I'd say MASKARA!  Because we organise it and it's great to see everyone dress up and have a good time!  It's good to take some of the elitism out of the fashion industry and share the stage with other bands we respect and admire.
From the MASKARA website:   MASKARA is just what it is:  a Legendary Festival of Deviants.  Call it the most disturbingly real fashion experience you'll ever have or a debauched Bacchanal for freaks and drag queens, one thing is true:  no matter what you've heard about it, no words good or bad, can convey the impact this party has on the city that never sleeps.

What are your future plans --- will you be touring Europe/the UK soon?

MARK:  In terms of touring we want to explore North America a bit but Europe is not safe from the Fairy Tale infection by any means ;)
XENIA:  My future plans include fully transforming myself into a man and touring Europe with a cucumber in my pants.  I think Lillie and I share the same vision.



NOTE:  Sky Salt have now split up but check the tags on this blog for an update on what they're up to now.


Vulgaras are a New York based band who blend elements of disturbing performance art and burlesque with metal/Goth/blues influenced music.  Their second album showcases the formidable vocal talents of lead singer, Velocity Chyaldd whose vocal range and raw emotion bring to mind performers like Diamanda Galas.  Musicially, the band do tend to stick within the metal/grindcore genre presenting songs that are brutal slabs of powerful guitar riffs and ferocious drumming.  Bands that fall under the "shock rock" label often tend to focus too much on the shock element and not enough on the rock front but Vulgaras manage to deliver on both fronts and come across as genuinely interested in exploring transgressive ideas and pushing boundaries --- not for some kind of cheap thrill but to reach a deeper emotional truth.  Velocity (who has worked as a sex worker for a number of years in NYC) has said in interviews that she wanted to explore the darker side of life, forcing people to confront ideas of sexuality and overcome the shame society places on the genuine expression of sexuality, both male and female.

I would have liked to have had a lyric booklet with the CD especially as they're hard to make out in some of the songs due to the overpowering music or Velocity's vocal style.  I wouldn't have it any other way though as I wouldn't want them to water down the the viscereal impact of such amazing music.  The last 2 songs (Hooker Barbie and an unnamed bonus track) do offer a change of pace as they go in for disturbing spoken word pieces set to slightly less heavy music that's reminiscent of some of Lydia Lunch's work.  Since this album was recorded, Vulgaras have had another change of personnel and are currently working on a 3rd album.

Vulgaras strike me as an intense and intelligent band who are driven to provide an emotionally powerful experience, both in their recorded music and performances, to inspire people with a truth that can be as frightening as it is beautiful, as poetic as it is scary.


Friday, 23 April 2010


Unskinny Bop is a monthly club night in London.  It has promoted itself as an attitude-free alternative to many of the image obsessed nights on London's alternative scene.  It is a queer run club night that welcomes everyone regardless of looks/size, sexual persuasion or gender and that diversity is reflected in an eclectic playlist.  They also occasionally produce a mini zine loosely based around the topic of body image/fat phobia featuring contributions from the likes of Charlotte Cooper and Bill Savage and cartoonist Lucy Sweet.

The 2 girls that run it, Ruth and Tamsin proudly proclaim that they are "for batties and fatties --- providing disco dancing opportunities for girls, gays and misfits."   And perhaps most revolutionary of all, they say AS IT IS AT THE DISCO, SO IT SHALL BE IN LIFE.

How did you start out as DJs?

I think really the origins of deejaying for both of us was in being obsessive mix tape makers and realising that the technical skills come second to the main criteria of having a good record collection and knowing when a song will sound good next to another one.  Before we met we had both been doing bits of deejaying here and there, Tamsin at Debbie's Smith's various club nights in London, Ruth at Poptastic in Sheffield and Manchester.

Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to be a DJ/run a club night?

DJing:  1.   Listen, think and talk about music non-stop and always be on the lookout for new great songs.
2.  Don't get too hung up on genre --- if you think a song is good, play it, people will come along with you (there are some exceptions to this, I was shocked when I played MmmBop by Hanson at the Bop and didn't get a round of applause much less a heaving dancefloor).
3.  Go out a lot and dance.  It's always good to know what other nights are doing and what songs feel good on the dancefloor.

What do you like/dislike most about DJing?

Best thing definitely is creating dancefloor magic, playing some crazy mixes of songs that seem to only make sense in your own head or dancing in your bedroom and having the kids go wild.  Worst thing is serial requesters who never even dance to the songs they have hassled you into playing!

What's been the most memorable night so far?

Probably the Halloween special featuring Zombina and the Skeletones and The Priscillas.  The venue was absolutely packed with a queue down the street, almost everyone dressed up in amazingly creative and scarey Halloween costumes, we had Delia from the A-Lines and Schla La La's as guest DJ and we had two of our most favourite bands in the world playing.  Shame we were too stressed out to fully enjoy it!

You sometimes do themed nights like the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers one --- what themes would you like to do in the future if you could?

It is possible that we will do a Summer Fun night at the August Bop but that depends on our powers of organisation in advance, the next fully themed night will be a Divas special featuring a dress up as your favourite diva competition and a countdown of the official Unskinny Bop Top Ten Divas.  I would also really really like to have some Karaoke going on but not sure if it will be feasible so can't promise anything --- We haven't set a date for this yet but it will be fully advertised on our website etc.

You also sometimes put on bands like The Priscillas and Zombina and the Skeletones.  Who would be your dream bands/singers to have at UB that you haven't had yet?

 We only do gigs occasionally as it is hard hard work, and the Bop is definitely more of a disco than a band night.  That said we are both currently completely obsessed with The Long Blondes and have been fantasising about having them play for us.

I know that you do an occasional mini zine as well to go along with your club night which I really love.  Do you have plans to do anything else like a bigger zine or an Unskinny Bop compilation CD?

 We will definitely be doing another zine at some point but not sure about a compilation CD --- I think making a compilation should be as much about the recepient as the person making the CD so I think it would be quite hard to make one for general use.  Also we are both quite square and good so would be worried about being sued for infringement of copyright etc.  The good people of Homocrime did mention the possibility of us curating a CD-R compilation release of songs by bands we know and love, so we might give that a go at some point.

Unskinny Bop has a very diverse and eclectic playlist even for an alternative club.  I think that's what appeals to me most, that you don't just play all indie music and that I get the feeling you play stuff because you genuinely love it not because you think it's "ironic".  Is there anything in particular you would recommend indie purists should check out that they've maybe not considered before?  Anything that you've played that people have loved and they maybe wouldn't have thought they would have done.

We would never dream of playing something ironically which is why the whole idea of "guilty pleasures" as a musical genre is annoying --- why be guilty about liking something just because it is perceived to be uncool?  I don't think it is in any way weird or wrong that I love listening to Girls Aloud as much as Girls At Our Best.  I don't have anything against indie purists as they tend to be so obsessed and obsessive about music that they have got enough stuff to be going on with without checking out the new Usher single.  What I object to is casual rock fans who devote masses of time and energy on criticising Avril Lavigne for being a fake --- she's a popstar, she doesn't have to be real!

In terms of recommendations, hmm, I think that most indie purists are essentially in love with a particular strand of pop music and that it is a real shame that they are blinkered to pop in its other guises.  I blame the NME, who wouldn't?  In my experience, unfortunately, (straight, white, male) indie purists are reluctant to accept music recommendations from fat lezzer Dolly Parton obsessives but I would encourage them to listen to other stuff with an open mind and not be so hung up on credibility.

I read on your website that you said one of the things that inspired Unskinny Bop was the increasing feeling that even alternative clubs were becoming more fashion conscious and body fascist.  Do you think the London scene has changed and why do you think this is?

Basically we set up Unskinny Bop based on our experiences of 8 odd years of gay, indie, and gay indie clubbing in London and the regions.  In the old days the notion of a gay indie club was very subversive and cool and fun, but after a few years the music policy of the principal clubs didn't change with the times and it's got very stale and boring.  Around the same time as we were getting disillusioned with this scene, electroclash happened and was immediately adopted by the gay and straight alternative scenes, which drove all the fashionista types into what were previously 'our' places.  Where before you would get wrecked on Red Stripe and happily flail around the dancefloor, now you had to queue up and meet a particular dress code (read:  body size code too) just to get in.  Once inside, there was no joy in the new music, just blankness and moral voide.  It sucked ass.
So, empowered by Ladyfest, we just decided to do our own thing, play music from all genres motivated only by our love and passion for the songs themselves and the desire to create a happy, inclusive atmosphere where all were welcome.  Since then electroclash has died a bit of a death so we can be less antagonistic but our raison d'etre remains the same.

What made you decide to promote Unskinny Bop on the positive body image front and what kind of feedback have you had (positive and negative)/

It basically came from feeling that Ladyfest was a good platform to feature something to do with body image as obviously it it such a massive issue for so many girls and women but we didn't want it to be all po-faced and Mein Kampfy, we just wanted to have a big old celebration of chubsters.  Our mainstream culture tends to measure success in terms of how much money one has and how thin one is, and the best way to challenge that assumption (we thought) was for us to host a massive free party honouring our podgiest of popstars. 

Also we just thought the phrase 'Unskinny Bop' would be a good name for a disco for fat people!  Apparently though it refers to having sex with a circumised penis.  Anyway.  Since the first Unskinny Bop the explicit pro-chub focus has diminished a bit, as we aspire to be a haven for all sorts of misfits whatever their size, but we hope the fact that the club is run and DJ'ed by fat lezzers helps encourage an inclusive, accessible and fat-positive atmosphere.

How would you describe Unskinny Bop to those of us who've never been and why should we all come along?

Best. Disco. Ever.  It may ruin clubbing for you forever though as nowhere else you are likely to go will be a as good.

What are your Top 5 songs at the moment?

Lust in the Movies --- The Long Blondes.
Gypsy --- Fleetwood Mac.
Zombie Hop --- Zombina and the Skeletones.
Diamonds (Remix) --- Kanye West featuring Jay-Z.
Baby I'm Burning --- Dolly Parton.




Shirin from Mothburner kindly sent me 2 demo CDs, divided into loud and quiet songs.  She and her partner Finn have been working as Mothburner for about a decade now.

I found it quite difficult to categorise their music but that could be becase I don't listen to enough bands that sound like Mothburner.  If indeed there are any other bands that sound like Mothburner because I do think they have an uncommon sound.  Shirin has an amazingly beautiful voice, it is very pure and high with a vibrato effect (which I liked but might not be to everyone's taste) which does remind me of choral or classical music.  But then Finn's musical backing echoes the lighter end of Goth like All About Eve or The Cocteau Twins and the occasionally strong drumbeats remind me a bit of Celtic folk like Clannad.  The music acts as the perfect setting for Shirin's voice, allowing it to take centre stage without over-dominating the songs.  The loud songs weren't that much different to the quiet songs in terms of tempo, they just had slightly heavier beats and more prominent drums which worked well on songs like Polly The One or My Little Girl Come HOme and shows some variety in their styles.

Some music can only come from a certain place (I would say Cristina's album reviewed elsewhere in this issue was very much a product of 1980s New York) and so Mothburner perfectly evoke the isolated beauty of their surrounding Cornish coastline.  This mood of fragile perfection is further epitomised by an absolutely stunning cover version of Acker Bilk's Stranger on the Shore (an old jazz standard).


NOTE:  Mothburner have now split up.  They do still have a My Space but it hasn't been updated in ages.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


The 1980s were the pinnacle for perfect pop music.  And one of the main reasons for that was the fact that genuinely creative and weird people made brilliant pop music.  These days pop music seems to have turned into a conveyor belt of boy band wannabes and porn influenced fembots churning out soulless pop.  Which is not to say there wasn't some crap back then but there were also bands like Soft Cell and Adam and the Ants who weren't afraid to step out of their art school ghettoes and make popular music for the masses.  IT WAS FABULOUS.

A perfect example of this was Strawberry Switchblade, a duo of Glaswegian girls, Jill and Rose, who'd met up on their home town's burgeoning punk scene and bonded as much over their outrageous appearance as their love of music.  They were best known for their love of polka dots and their look seemed like a home-made forerunner to the Gothic Lolita style now popular in Japan.  They had back-combed hair adorned with long ribbons, thick black eyeliner, loads of cheap jewellery and polka dot dresses which only seemed even more strangely asexual when combined with the skyscraper stilettos and fishnets which the girls favoured.  They resembled cute Kabuki witches.  Nobody else could have invented that look and only they could have perfected it.

Their music was every bit as striking --- bittersweet pop music that produced a strangely unsettling effect while never distracting from some beautiful melodies and harmonies.  Although they released several singles and one album, their only big hit was Since Yesterday.  However, it was a UK Top 5 hit and bizarrely enough, this was all it took for the girls to keep Band Aid (the charity single that went on to be one of the biggest selling singles of all time) off the cover of Smash Hits (then the biggest selling pop magazine in the UK).  But sometimes that one moment of pop perfection is all you need.  Some bands will go their whole career without ever reaching that pinnacle. I don't care if Strawberry Switchblade never had a string of number ones or won awards, I think they're an amazing band.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and Strawberry Switchblade are a sparkly sequin in my memory of the 1980s.  All I'd ever heard was Since Yesterday but that was enough to convince me of their genius.  I managed to track down a Japanese CD reissue of their album and I wasn't disappointed.  Who could forget their plaintive ode to agoraphobia, Trees and Flowers or jaunty pop numbers with an underlying threat of menace like Let Her Go or Jolene.  I think the internet has been the saving grace for bands like Strawberry Switchblade.  Before it existed obscure bands would be easily forgotten and there was no way for fans to easily share what resources they did have.  Ebay and Amazon have made it easier for people all around the world to obtain rare and out of print items and programmes like Napster meant people could trade music files.   And people were able to set up fan sites that people could access and interact with from anywhere in the world.

I think Strawberry Switchblade have one of the best fan sites I've seen on the Internet.  It's easy to navigate and has a pretty design that reflects the band's image.  Merrick (who set it up) has done an amazing job in finding loads of press cuttings and rare music downloads as well as loads of photos, lyrics and more.  But the most amazing thing on the site is an in depth interview with both girls and some other people associated with the band like Bill Drummond (later of The KLF) who was their manager.  And when I say in depth I really mean it.  But God, what a story!  I don't want to spoil the surprise but it makes fantastic reading from Rose discussing her childhood growing up in violent slums and the death of her brother to Jill talking about how agoraphobia affected her life covering their rise to fame complete with violent stalkers leading to their eventual breakup amidst accusations of Nazi sympathies and occult obsessions.  I wish more people could read it as it's such an interesting story and Merrick has done a good job in getting everybody to talk about the various issues so openly.





As far as I can tell they haven't split up but then they haven't done anything else since their 2004 debut, Shaping the Invisible.  The album should still be available from Amazon/CD Baby/other record stores and they have MP3s available on the usual sites.

Unfortunately YouTube doesn't have any live footage or music videos but there are a couple of their songs up on there including my favourite, Alain


I was involved in organising Ladyfest Newcastle which took place in September 2006 and one of things which gave me the most satisfaction was discovering new female performers and giving them a platform.  I can't remember when I first heard of Gene Serene but I do know that as soon as I saw/heard her, I had to have her for our festival.  The self-proclaimed Dada Goddess was inspired by the resurgence in electro music and now splits her time between the art scenes and nightlife of London and Berlin.

Although she has collaborated with other artists including Human League and S'Express, I believe this EP is her first solo release.  It's a breathtaking slice of confident, catch electronic pop/dance music influenced by the driving beats of 80s music like early Human League.  (Indeed, it includes a cover version of Sound of the Crowd).  Songs like I Can Do Anything use simple lyrics to reinforce the repetitive beats that would make these songs great dancefloor fillers whilst other songs like The Hours go for a change in tempo to highlight more emotional lyrics.  I think my favourite song has to be Black Rose which starts deceptively gently before coming to a bittersweet crescendo that is incredibly infectious.

When I saw Gene Serene perform live, she was solo onstage basically talking/singing into a mike over a backing track with mainly abstract/random images projected behind her.  She still had the charisma and glamour to engage with the crowd in a way that reminded me of Grace Jones or Siouxsie Sioux.  In a way it was a shame we put her on during the day as I could imagine she'd go down really well with a trendy club crowd and feed off their energy.  If this CD has a drawback, it's that it doesn't quite do justice to the impact of her live performances or sheer presence but it still acts as a promise/threat of dark beauties to come. Gene (aka Louise De Fraine) now has her own record label, Dada Discs and is releasing more of her music on iTunes.
(One of my favourite songs of hers, 7 Dials is only up on her My Space not on this EP which is such a shame as it uses the riff from Manic Monday to create an insanely catchy electro-pop song).



I've never been particularly keen on remix albums/E.P.s.   I don't think I've ever heard a remix that has genuinely improved on a song --- yes, some of them are interesting but to me, it just seems like cleverness for its own sake.  Emilie Autumn released this album length EP as a follow-up to Opheliac and I think it proves my argument as well as verging on overkill.  You get the album versions of Liar and Dead is the New Alive off the Opheliac album (both good songs and live favourites) --- you then get 4 remixes of Liar and 2 of Dead is the New Alive done by various stars of the Gothic music scene such as Angelspit and Dope Stars Inc. that involve varying degrees of shouting and clattering about and really only succeed in killing off any residual affection I ever had for these particular tracks.

However if you're an EA fan it's still worth looking out for this CD as it includes 4 new tracks, the best of which is Mad Girl which has more of a classical/folk influence.  Best Safety Lies In Fear starts off promisingly but peters out without making the impact it could have done.  There's also an instrumental track off Laced/Unlaced and a brilliant cover version of Thank God I'm Pretty by Spiritual Front where the sardonic male vocals and world-weary piano accompaniment bring out the sarcastic black humour in the lyrics and really add a new dimension to the song.

I think it would have been better to have had remixes of a wider variety of tracks or release a shorter CD at a lower price.  I think Trisol really missed an opportunity to create an EP that would have acted as a taster for the album drawing in new fans whilst still offering something extra for old fans.  (EA gives such visually stunning theatrical live performances that some live concert clips would have been a definite advantage).



Rosin Coven are a San Francisco based collective of male and female artists/performers who describe their band as "the world's premiere pagan lounge ensemble."  And indeed, there is something alchemical at work with their beautiful music.  There is a strong jazz influence which is blended with classical, cabaret, and world music influences to create something that is at once stunning and strange.  It produces a pleasant but vaguely unsettling effect like a strange dream, that you stumble into a private club in a foreign city to be confronted by a troupe of gypsies and witches playing medieval cabaret music.  The strangeness is all the more effective for being so subtle.  The vocals swoop and soar in an exquisitely stunning fashion like a beautiful bird of paradise, all the while complimented by the able musicianship (in fact, several of the band members also play in orchestras).  Although they have more a jazz sound than the likes of Rasputina or The Dresden Dolls, they do share their love of theatrical performances and colourful stage costumes and a blending of old and new traditions.  As well as playing at the post-apocalyptic festival, The Burning Man in Nevada, Rosin Coven also founded The Edwardian Ball --- a grand costume ball/festival held yearly in San Francisco in honour of eccentric illustrator Edward Gorey and now in its eighth year.  You can be sure if this fabulous band did have a menagerie you would probably find all manner of weird and wonderful beasts in there creating an eclectic collage of noise with their calls, cries, growls and howls.  The end result is a bewitching and beguiling album that could be the lost soundtrack to some bewildering fairytale movie.


Wednesday, 21 April 2010


 I think this latest release from Emilie Autumn acts as a much better taster than the Liar EP.  It acts as an introduction to her forthcoming book/project, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls and continues to explore the theme of women and madness that she expressed so successfully on Opheliac.  The title track and it's B side, My Fairweather Friend, are haunting and delicate but still maintaining their bittersweet impact.  The tracks from Opheliac, Gothic Lolita and 2 remixes of Swallow, seem to stand out more on this EP than the original album and I'm glad they've finally been given the chance to shine as it's made me appreciate how beautiful and unique they are.  Swallow, in particular, deserves to be a huge hit and Gothic Lolita has an exquisitely dark beauty that more than lives up to its title.  The EP also includes the more industrial influenced instrumental, Organ Grinder from the Saw 3 soundtrack before ending with several excerpts from The Asylum (some of them are spoken word, one is another song).  They are dark and brooding, creating a beguiling but disturbing atmosphere balancing delicate poetry/music with nightmarish imagery to create an evocative tribute to the theme of female madness.



At the same time as the Enchant re-release, Trisol also released this compilation album of rarities/previously unreleased tracks (some of which were live).  It was also a limited edition and included a small hardcover book that featured reproductions of EA's handwritten notes.  It featured a couple of remixes of tracks from Enchant plsu early songs that are no longer available and several instrumentals and an assortment of cover versions.  The cover versions include tracks by The Smiths and The Beatles as well as songs from Cabaret and Upstairs, Downstairs --- sadly, her version of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (from the Monty Python film Life of Brian) is an instrumental only track.  It ends with Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches, a strange and unnerving original composition about the treatment of women who were considered mad in Victorian times.  (There were actually a couple of bonus hidden tracks after that but I won't spoil the surprise by saying what they were).  Although it is an eclectic selection of songs, personally I would have liked a couple of songs in the Gothic/Industrial style of Opheliac to truly demonstrate the range EA is capable of (or some video clips of her recent live performances).  The songs on the album showcase a more melodic style influenced more by cabaret/theatre and classical music that highlights EA's delicious sense of humour and talent for the extraordinary.  As it is, this album is like a cabinet of curiousities containing many oddities of varying degrees of beauty and strangeness.



Trisol also released a double album of EA's violin solos called Laced/Unlaced (it was released in 2 slightly different formats --- one as a standard CD and the other including a small hardcover book that featured some gorgeous photos of Emilie and extracts of violin scores).  The Laced CD features Emilie playing classical compositions by the likes of Bach as well as her original songs that are more traditional in feel.  It's actually a re-release of her debut classical album, On A Day (now out of print) but does include an extra 40 minutes of live performances from her classical period.  The Unlaced CD features more original compositions by EA that showcase more of her Gothic/Industrial influences.  To be honest, although I'm not that much of a fan of instrumentals or classical music I preferred the Laced disc to the Unlaced one.  On Unlaced she goes in for the frantic shredding and intense playing usually associated with guitar players like Yngwie Malmsteen.  It's interesting to hear that technique used on violin music.  It would probably sound really good as a solo as part of a song on an album/as a live performance but when it's sustained across a whole album, it starts to feel a bit repetitive and strained.



Emilie Autumn's new record label Trisol also re-released her 2003 album Enchant (which I originally reviewed in PussyRock 2) as a limited edition with different packaging.  It's undoubtedly a beautiful album, a stunning blend of Celtic/folk/classical influences that was somewhat softer and more melodic than the Victoriandustrial sound she pioneered on Opheliac.  It was evocatively christened fairytale rock and the album really deserved a wider audience.  However, the reissue is somewhat flawed.  It still has the same track listing as the original yet was being sold for a far higher price than the normal price for single CD (around £20 in the UK).  The different packaging basically amounts to a small hardcover book featuring a facsimile of her original notes/lyrics for Enchant (sadly mostly illegible) and a fairytale she wrote herself.  Personally I think better value for money would have been a fold-out poster or bonus tracks/video footage on the CD.



Emilie Autumn is a classically trained violinist who has worked with Courtney Love and Billy Corgan among others.  As well as her music career, she also markets her own line of beauty products and has her own fashion label, the WillowTech House selling clothes and accessories like fairy wings.  Indeed her personal style could best be described as "punk fairy" as she combines bright pink hair with corsets and big boots to produce a visually stunning image.  Her music which she describes as fantasy rock is every bit as stunning too.

This album showcases a variety of styles that include a wide range of influences from classical chamber music to Celtic folk to danceable pop and indie rock.  It's a tribute to Emilie's talent that she manages to blend all these diverse elements together to create a dazzling tapestry of beautiful songs.  The fairytale/fantasy element works well without ever seeming whimsical or silly.  I know Emilie has said on her Live Journal that she disliked her music being described as ethereal and whilst I respect her wishes, I think it's an apt adjective.  I think ethereal in the original sense of fairies as queens and warriors, something so otherworldly as to be breathtaking.  Emilie's music is tremendously catchy and rewards repeated listening with finding new parts to love.  In some ways, she reminds me of Kate Bush (or even Tori Amos), female artists who were able to produce perfect pop songs whilst remaining innovative and combining a wide range of influences.

Unfortunately classical music does still tend to get a bad press but Emilie has managed to use these influences without compromising them or sounding anything less than modern.  This mix of modern and timeless fairytale is echoed with the CD itself.  You can download the entire album in full from Emilie's website but then artwork is a visual puzzle to be solved to win a prize of fairy goodies.  I really recommend you check out Emilie.  I think she has a great future ahead of her.  Enchant came out in 2003 on her own label, Traitor Records and Emilie is currently working on the follow up, Opheliac, which I can't wait to hear.  Apparently it will be somewhat darker in them with songs like Gothic Lolita and The Art of Suicide.


NOTE:  This review refers to the original edition of Enchant.  It has since been reissued.


Hannah Fury makes impossibly beautiful music.  She wrote and performed all the songs on this album (this is her 2nd full length album since her debut in 2000 although she has also released several EPs on her own record label, Mellow Traumatic).  She uses mainly keyboards and drum machine to create songs that seem fragile and ethereal but have a darker undertone.  She's compared to Julee Cruise and like her, I could see these songs as the soundtrack to some macabre David Lynch masterpiece.  On some of the songs like Girls That Glitter Love The Dark the music uses more of a trip hop influence to produce a definite sense of unease.  On other songs like Don't Look Back, she weaves a fragile confection that somehow manages to highlight her emotional lyrics even more.  Her way with words is beguiling and mysterious and her voice is enchanting and seductive.  She layers her vocals to create a rich texture to her songs whose multi-layered sound make it hard to believe just one person could create such accomplished songs.

She is living proof that less is more, that gothic doesn't have to mean screaming over thumping beats, it can be the simple but tragic sound of a heart breaking.  Some of her earlier songs were based on Wicked (itself based on The Wizard of Oz) and she often uses baroque and carnival imagery in her work (she has an online boutique called Antoinette's Revenge where she sells handmade jewellery among other things) but she is one of those artists who can do this without ever making her songs feel like novelty items.  She makes you believe totally and utterly in the strange world she has created.  Delicately beautiful songs with a deliciously darker undertone like the melodies from a haunted music box, Hannah Fury is an extraordinary artist.



Hazard County Girls are a trio from New Orleans who create heavy, doom-laden rock anthems with a melodic edge.  Their music features sludge-y deep guitars and a driving drum beat that echoes stoner rock and bands like Black Sabbath.  They manage to keep it from being too overwhelming and one-dimensional by blending tunes and gloom to create music as beautiful and powerful as a stormy ocean.  Lead singer, Christy Kane, also has a softer, more beguiling voice than you normally get with this type of music and it makes her cryptic but emotional lyrics all the more evocative and beguiling.  It's a testament to their musical skills that 3 of them can create such strong music that surrounds you and cocoons you and spirits you away to a strange, dark but oddly safe place.  They bring gothic influences in, in a unexpected way with touches of traditional folk/blues rather like Rasputina or Nick Cave (only a lot heavier and more towards traditional guitar rock) --- their cover version of Knoxville Boy (the traditional ballad, Knoxville Girl, slightly rewritten) is a haunting ode and there are many other fine songs on this album.  (My personal favourites are Fine Lines and Wise Blood).  Divine Armour is the sound of a band of heartbroken female pirates laying waste to a desolate world.




Johnny La Guardia --- We have a story --- "Dear Mr. La Guardia, Do you think it's OK if I pretend I'm a zombie?  My mother died a long time ago but my father is rich and famous and perfect but I can't be like him.  He expects me to be happy but I'm clumsy and ugly.  I don't want anyone looking at me.  I can't do anything.  I can't do sports.  I can't dance.  I can't make friends.  I wrote to you before but only in my journal."  The letter is signed A Real Zombie.  You have something very special inside you, young lady.  The seed that contains your unique self.  Maybe you're all alone, that's a pretty scary place to be.  I know about it.  You may have to jump off into the darkness.  How desperate they feel, those moments before you jump.  But sometimes you just got to do it.  You gotta pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you gotta jump.

Tiny fossil bones
Translucent skin
Million year old eyes
Dinosaur, you don't belong here
They'll kill your for tiny tusks
But your ribs are my ladder, Nicky
I'm so amazed, I'm so amazed.
(Pamela's poem about Nicky).

Johnny La Guardia --- Time to shut off the TV set, David.  Come see Times Square in the flesh, not from the windows of your limo.   It's hot down here --- It's Rio at carnival time.  It's ripe, baby --- get in touch with that place inside of you that craves slime more than plastic, David.  And vitality more than manners, David.  And life more than television.

Nicky --- Hey, you really sick or what?
Pamela --- Well, I don't know really.  See, the doctors, they won't tell me what's wrong with me.
Nicky --- They ain't never gonna tell you what's wrong with you.   I get my revenge.  I'm not gonna tell them what's wrong with them either.

Pamela --- The evening lies spread out against the sky.  Like a patient etherised upon a table.  I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.
Nicky --- It still sounds like bullshit to me.
Pamela --- Nicky, what about songs?  What about the roses in the hospital?  What about take a piss, you asshole?  That's poetry.
Nicky --- It doesn't rhyme.
Pamela --- Well, it doesn't have to.  It doesn't have to fit in a book.  Nicky, everything you do or you say is poetry.  At least I think so.

Dear Daddy, I am not kidnapped.  I am me-napped.  I am soul-napped.  I am Nicky-napped.  I am happy-napped.  Doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs --- we are looking after ourselves and having our own Renaissance.  We don't need anti-depressants, we need your understanding.  (Pamela's letter to her father that's read out on the radio).

Yes father dear, you want to make Times Square as cold as your icy eyes
Why do you want to punish people who aren't like you?
You know at home, I've heard you use these following words
Spic, nigger, faggot and psycho
Well, I just want you to know your daughter is one.
Spic, nigger, faggot, bum
Your daughter is one.
(Song by The Sleez Sisters that they perform on radio).

Pamela --- You only care about yourself, you faker.
Johnny La Guardia --- I feel like I give myself away everyday for a living.
Pamela --- You give other people away for a living.

Nicky --- They tell me I'm crazy but the truth is, I just know bullshit when I see it.

Nicky --- Please, I just got one more thing to say, one more thing.  I knew a girl named Pammy.  She taught me a lot of things about life.  She was real smart.  She knew a lot of things.  But she knew one thing long before I ever knew it.  That she was the best friend I ever had.


ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER 2004. Robin Johnson fan site with an excellent page devoted to this movie.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


The story of the movie "Times Square"

Times Square is one of my favourite movies.  It was an American film released in 1980 but I discovered it in the early 1980s.  It was released on DVD a few years ago complete with commentary by the director and lead actress, it's only available as a Region 1 DVD but it's still worth getting hold of.  It's the story of 2 teenage girls who meet up in a mental hospital and run away together.  Trini Alvarado plays Pamela Pearl, the repressed quiet daughter of a prominent politician who's engaged in a campaign to clean up Times Square.  Robin Johnson plays Nicky, a wild juvenile delinquent who wants to be a famous rock star.  The 2 girls call themselves The Sleez Sisters and gain a following among the city's disaffected youth for exposing the hypocrisy of society.  The girls are befriended/exploited by a charismatic DJ, Johnny La Guardia, played by Tim Curry.

Times Square was the first film Alan Moyle ever directed.  (He later went on to make Pump Up The Volume with Christian Slater).  He wrote the script after he found the diary of an unknown girl in a second hand sofa where she talked about her experiences of being a mentally ill teenager with nobody to talk to.  He'd also worked at St. Vincent's mental hospital in Manhattan and used the experiences of girls he'd known there.  The original story was called She Got The Shakes and was about a teenage girl having psychosomatic fits who meets another girl in a mental hospital. Jacob Brackman then revised it into the finished screenplay.

The original movie was intended to be a small scale production with a strong "downtown" punk ethos reflecting the sleazy location of Times Square.  (This was before the area was redeveloped and cleaned up).  Alan Moyle showed the script to various Hollywood studios who were interested in doing it but wanted to develop it further and tone it down.   Robert Stigwood (the producer behind Grease and Saturday Night Fever) somehow got hold of a copy of the script and pursued them.  Alan Moyle decided to go with his organisation because he thought Stigwood would remain true to the ethos of the film, especially the gay storyline between the 2 girls.

Trini Alvarado (then only 12) was cast as Pamela Pearl.  They auditioned thousands of girls all over America for the part of Nicky Moratta before Robin Johnson was discovered.  She was a 15 year old schoolgirl who was hanging out on the streets of Brooklyn when a guy came up to her and told her all about the film and gave her the number to call for an audition.  She had to audition several times as she was an unknown name who had never acted before she was given the part.  (Nobody ever found out who the guy actually was who discovered Robin).

Tim Curry also appears in the movie as Johnny La Guardia.  He shot all his scenes in 2 days and in the DVD commentary, Alan Moyle confesses that he feels he failed to truly exploit Tim's genius and that he was badly treated by the Robert Stigwood Organisation.   He wasn't the only one.

Alan Moyle had chosen songs that evoked the "downtown" feel of the movie and it was planned that these would be released as a soundtrack album.  But the Robert Stigwood Organisation wanted to do a double album and told Moyle to add another 7 or 8 songs.  He refused and was sacked from the movie.  The movie was then recut.  All traces of the gay storyline were cut including scenes that had already been shot such as one of the girls dyeing each other's hair or swimming in their underwear.  Robert Frank (who did the cover of Exile on Main Street) had offered to do the opening titles but the Robert Stigwood Organisation turned him down claiming he would be too dark.  A David Bowie song was commissioned but wasn't used.  The extra songs were all pop/disco numbers which gave the finished soundtrack a somewhat schizophrenic feel.

Robin Johnson was described as the lovechild of Judy Garland and Mick Jagger and even in this flawed film, she gave a stand-out performance that should really have led to more.  However, she signed an exclusive contract with the Robert Stigwood Organisation who were going to develop films for her.  She was asked to audition for countless films in Hollywood but had to decline them all as she was under exclusive contract.  When it finally ended, she was back to the start as an unknown actress because Times Square hadn't been a big hit.  She was in a couple of B movies and had bit parts in movies like After Hours before she gave up her acting career.  She was working as a traffic reporter for a Los Angeles radio station.

The finished movie was supposed to be popular and appeal to everyone but it ended up pleasing no-one and was a big flop.  However, over the years it has become a cult classic.
A couple of points of interest:
Many of the girls' costumes seem to echo Vivienne Westwood's Buffalo Girls collection, which I believe came out a few years later.
There is a scene where Nicky watches Pamela dancing in a strip club that is very reminiscent of Aerosmith's Crazy video.  A "butch" teenage girl in a suit watches her girlfriend dance (but not strip) in a packed strip joint to the approval of the audience.
Manic Street Preachers did a cover version of Damn Dog on their debut album, Generation Terrorists.  They also did a song called Roses in the Hospital which is a direct quote from the movie.

It has one of the best soundtracks ever featuring New Wave tracks from the likes of Patti Smith and The Pretenders.  Robin Johnson's songs are amazing and it's hard to believe she was only 15 when you watch her assured performances.  David Johansen of the New York Dolls (who did a duet with her that appears on the soundtrack but not in the film) told her that she had what it takes to be a great rockstar.  Her acting is so raw and spell-binding that Courtney Love cited her as a major inspiration.  Robin is amazing to watch although it's difficult to think what other roles she could have played without being typecast --- she was such an extraordinary performer.

I still think this is an amazing movie.  It has an incredible energy and moments of real genius.  It is a flawed film though --- some of it is hopelessly melodramatic and unbelievable and the editing has somewhat fucked up the story.  But despite all this, the essential spirit of the film shines through.  It is one of the few female buddy movies that ends happily especially for one based around the theme of mental illness.  Even the mental illness theme was unusual for the time especially as the movie tried to show the freedom and creativity and openness that could come with mental illness.

When I first saw this movie, it was a fucking epiphany.   I was 14 years old, hospitalised in a psychiatric unit and just getting into alternative culture.  Times Square was a revelation.  It showed you how exciting and chaotic the big city could be and how it would inspire and stimulate you as well as scare you.  That was my dream --- to run away to the bright lights and have my own creative renaissance and be discovered by some cool alternative media Svengali.  It seemed like Nicky and Pamela represented the 2 halves of my personality and my 2 possible futures.  Pamela was the quiet, respectable girl who longed for a normal, middle class life and Nicky was the wild, crazy genius who would burn brightly then crash hard.  This movie seemed like the only thing remotely resembling and evoking my mood and hopes and fears at the time.



NOTE:   Apparently they've now released a Region 2 DVD (although for somer reason it seems to have only been released in Spain)


Razorblade Kisses are rapidly gaining a cult following as the UK's first (if not only) Gothic Lolita band.  (Gothic Lolita is a fashion movement originating in Japan --- you can see examples of it in the Fruits books of Japanese street style).  The band comprise 2 classically trained sisters from Iran on vocals and their husbands on guitar/bass and a drummer with 2 violinists recently added to the mix.

The songs on this EP are all very accomplished mixing classical influences with the lighter end of Goth to produce some very catchy songs.  There is also a more ambient/trip hop influence on the slower songs.  The girls also use their Persian heritage to great effect on songs like The Ballerina which is based on a traditional poem.  The different elements work well together without seeming overdone.  Layla and Azadeh's vocals are particularly appropiate sounding childlike yet melancholy or even bitter and adding just the right amount of edge to the beautiful music.

Although it could be argued this band won't appeal to everyone I think it would be a shame if a band who were so musically (and visually) creative did not reach a wider audience or were dismissed as a novelty. Razorblade Kisses are based in Southampton so tend to play live in either London or Winchester --- look out for them.


NOTE:  This EP is no longer available but the band have released their debut album Twinkle Twinkle Little Scar.


Sophia from Noisy zine put me onto this band.  Sky Salt are based in New York and describe their music as "fairytale rock."   Their lead singer, Xenia emigrated from Russia at the age of 17 and now works as a fashion designer/make-up artist specialising in colourful Gothic Lolita type looks. She is backed by guitarist Mark A.D. and androgynous bassist, Lillie Charlotte.

I Believe in Fairytales is their first full-length album released on their own label.  Their music is more like the indie/alternative music of the early 90s rather than the full-blown Goth that their striking image might suggest.  Xenia's sweet voice is highlighted by swathes of guitar rock which are melodic without overwhelming the prettiness of the tunes.  Although there is a certain delicacy and restraint to their music, the fairytale imagery never appears twee and the songs are strong enough to be memorable.  Their basic indie guitar rock is highlighted by folk influences and lifted above other similar bands by their accomplished musicianship and Xenia's charismatic vocals.  They are already gaining rave reviews for their live performances as well and have staged their fashion shows/club nights in New York --- hopefully it won't be long till Sky Salt sprinkle their musical glitter over the UK.


NOTE:  Sky Salt have now split up.

Monday, 19 April 2010


This is a 3 track EP from an Oxfordshire band of 2 boys and 2 girls.  It's primeval heavy metal music with thundering guitar riffs and powerful drumming which is overwhelmingly dominated by the vocal performances of Eliza Gregory.  Her ability to go from childlike croon to angry roar is reminiscent of some of Jessicka from Jack off Jill's performances or Tairrie B.'s full-throated screams.  It's quite unnerving to go from relatively melodic moments to a voice that seems to come from the bowels of Hell and reminds me of nothing less then Regan from The Exorcist.  The vocals are balanced by some accomplished musicianship that helps keep the songs focused as sheer slabs of overwhelming brutal power.  Admittedly this band will probably only appeal to a select audience but for those who like heavy metal music (in the truest sense of the word) with strong female vocals then this band should definitely scratch that itch and I think it will be interesting to see how they develop in the future.  (The more recent tracks on their My Space like Dear Sweet Aveline have more of an indie sound but with a wild desperation reminiscent of artists like PJ Harvey).



Although Pam Hogg is perhaps best known as a fashion designer, she's been involved in music on and off for just as many years.  Amy Raphael's book on female musicians (variously titled Never Mind The Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock or Grrrls: Viva Rock Divas) featured a great interview with her talking about her band at the time, Doll (this was in the early 90s).  Now she's made a demo CD available to buy via her My Space --- I think this is her 1st CD release but I could be wrong.

There are 5 songs on the CD.  The first couple of songs have a sleazy, garage-rock, swampland blues sound reminiscent of The Cramps or early Nick Cave.   Then songs like Honeyland have a beguiling seductiveness, Pam's vocals dripping a dark sweetness that does bear out the comparisons to Nico.  The way the songs groove and riff with hints of electro influences (like a more Gothic Goldfrapp) and more straightforward dirty rock and roll complementing but never overwhelming Pam's hypnotic vocals means a wider audience would surely be guaranteed if Pam was to get more exposure.  There are a couple of music videos off this CD up on YouTube featuring her performing with the kind of strong confidence and brazen sexuality that led to Skin Two dubbing her "a Warrior Queen --- a cross between a Hell's Angel, Pussy Galore and Joan of Arc."  I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next with her music (especially as this was just a basic demo and I'd love to see what someone with such a great sense of style would do for a full album and/or stage show).



Jennifer Herrema was one half of Royal Trux, one of the most under-rated bands of the 1990s.  Along with her creative/romantic partner, Neil Hagerty, their brand of heroin-soaked classic rock and roll produced several classic albums (as well as a lot of dirgeful lo-fi meanderings).  Since their split, Jennifer has formed a new band with a couple of younger musicians, Jaimo Welch and Nadow Eisenman.
This is their first album and it's pretty much a continuation of the classic Royal Trux sound.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Royal Trux and now RTX have a particular sound that I never get tired of hearing.  It's true that this album didn't really have any stand-out songs like some of their tracks on classic albums like Accelerator --- instead of that, there's a kind of continuous sonic assault washing over you.  Sleazy rock music with a classic flabour, reminiscent of Aerosmith or The Rolling Stones with bursts of guitar feedback and distortion adding texture to the mix.  For some reason, this is the first time I've noticed how androgynous Jennifer's voice is.  Her throaty rasp and slurred delivery are the perfect compliment to the music, which sounds accomplished but never sterile, loose but never sloppy.  The lyrics are the usual surreal stream of consciousness so you're not missing much by only having arty photos in the booklet.

RTX sound like The Rolling Stones if Anita Pallenberg had staged a coup and ousted Mick Jagger.  It's hard to produce music like this without sounding too forced or cliched but RTX succeed because they have the authentic spirit of rock and roll and you can't fake that.



Wendy James was the lead singer of Transvision Vamp, a brilliant pop-punk band of the late 80s/early 90s.  After they split, she did release a solo album, Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears, but all the songs on that were written by Elvis Costello.  Racine, however, is Wendy James' first true solo project --- she wrote all the songs, taught herself to play all the instruments and how to produce the songs.

And Number One is a strange album.  Not strange in the sense of "Wow, did you hear that?" but more strange in a head-scratching, puzzling way.  Racine sounds nothing like Transvision Vamp but in a sense, why should it?   It's been over 10 years since Wendy was last musically active and she was never the main songwriter of Transvision Vamp.  Number One features a series of incredibly laid-back sweet pop songs with a slight electronic flavour with Wendy crooning in a wistful and somewhat nostalgic way (a theme that's echoed in the album's artwork).  The lyrics are charming but repetitive with references to the Beat poets and vintage Americana.  The songs are all pleasant enough without being particularly outstanding or memorable.  It makes great background music to a lazy Sunday brunch on a sunny day and it has enough curiousity value to make me want to check out what Wendy does next.


Sunday, 18 April 2010


Colt rose like a phoenix as the renamed and revamped version of Living With Eating Disorders producing emotionally intense electronic music that showcased the extraordinary vocal talents of Andrea Kerr who balanced fragility and intensity to great effect.   Their first album, These Things Can't Hurt You Now So Throw Them In The Fire, gained some good reviews and the band were starting to gain a cult audience helped along by some amazing live performances.  Unfortunately, personnel changes meant the band underwent a prolonged break before returning with this EP.   It features 4 new songs and some remixes of those songs by Arlen Figgis and William Bennett that's released on their own label, Obvious Records.

The EP showcases the quieter, more reflective side of Colt (rather than the more guitar based emotional freakouts like Demon in the Wheels that featured on the album).  What always intrigues me about Colt is how such sparse electronic music and understated vocals can still create such a big sound --- it seems to surround you and stretch out before you like an Arctic landscape but it has a certain purity and cleanness to it never feels overwhelming.  I hope that Colt are able to play more live shows.  I saw them play in Newcastle in 2006 and was blown away by them, largely due to Andrea's charismatic stage performance.  Even though she was only playing the back room of a pub to less than 20 people she still gave an amazing performance of breathtaking intensity, screaming and sighing beautiful songs of madness and self destruction with a focus and self possession that left the audience reeling.  This EP is a subtle hint of what this band can deliver and acts as a window onto their strange and extraordinary world.



Roxy Saint is an underground film-maker/musician from Los Angeles.  Her debut release is on DVD only (although you can visit her site to download the songs with a special code on the DVD).  It has 10 of her songs linked by these surreal bits in between (which personally I wasn't that keen on).   It's an incredible debut.  Roxy Saint is awesome and I think she could be a big star.

Musically I guess you could say she sounds like a female Marilyn Manson and her songs are insanely catchy rock numbers with a sort of electronic/industrial twist similar to Manson's.  The DVD was a good idea because Roxy is so striking looking and utilises a number of different looks in her performances that the visual element really adds something to the songs.  She's got the raw emotional quality of someone like PJ Harvey (who I think she sometimes looks a bit like) or Brody Dalle (except I think she comes across as more complex than Brody).

Back when Marilyn Manson was pursuing Fiona Apple I had strange dreams of what would happen if he caught her and she bore his seed.   I like to imagine Roxy would be the result as she has Fiona's raw-eyed vulnerability and predilection of rolling around in her underwear and Manson's ambition to be the biggest superstar in the world.  The music videos are all basic performances but the use of striking imagery and good camera work lifts them above the ordinary.  There is a fair bit of nudity and lesbian antics but you never get the feeling Roxy is putting it on for the camera, it all seems to be a genuine expression of her.

Some bits to watch out for:
In HUMANS Roxy wanders the streets of L.A. in a see-through plastic ensemble reminiscent of one of Nicola Bowery's outfits singing Robots never get raped and There's no humans left in this world anymore.
SUPERSTARS plays over a montage of stills but is a change of tempo to the other songs that sounds amazing.
ANOTHER FACE Roxy crawls out of a box looking like a Goth.  Well, so far as anyone dressed in an orange ballgown with black dreads can look Goth.  This is undercut with scenes of her performing at a party where she is the image of PJ Harvey.   Wearing a jacket, she reveals an incredibly thin torso and a black fishnet bra with black masking tape over her nipples.
FIRECRACKER features Roxy dancing around dressed only in bits of plastic but never seeming cheap, only sleazy and believe me, there's a world of difference.
OURS features some sort of all girl orgy in a hot tub involving a certain amount of knife-play.
DARK DUST SEED features a change of image for Roxy as she appears with short blonde hair in a blue Chinese dress smoking a joint while a fire-eater twirls fire in the background.
And I WANNA BE YOUR DOG  is a killer version of Iggy's song that finally nails the myth that a woman couldn't do this song justice.




The debut CD from The Priscillas features the 4 tracks from their first 2 limited edition vinyl releases plus an extra track, Can't Decide (which is OK but to be honest, I preferred Winner off their original demo CD).   The girls blaze their way through some stomping garage rock lightened up with bubblegum pop touches like handclaps and vocal harmonies.  For some reason, this time round I was reminded of bands like The Sweet or Suzi Quatro --- bands who did storming rock and roll anthems without taking themselves too seriously and whose feelgood songs were backed up by some great playing.  Remember when rock & roll really was that fun, that sexy and that effortlessly cool?  When Phil Spector produced The Ramones this is how they should have sounded.
The CD emphasises their pop side more than their live shows where they tend to sound heavier and punkier.  The two videos on the CD (Gonna Rip Up Your Photograph and All My Friends Are Zombies) are fairly straightforward low budget performances which still manage to do a good job of capturing their energy and style.  The band are currently working on their debut album and I think it will be interesting to see if they can keep up the high standards they've set over the course of a full album.

NOTE:   They've since released 2 singles, One Christmas Wish (download only) and Superhero (limited edition 7 inch vinyl) which showcased more of a poppier sound.  Both videos are up on You Tube and I particularly like Superhero for it's Barbie doll house party.



The Dresden Dolls made a big impact when they broke out of the Boston local music/arts scene because of their charismatic live performances and the way they combined theatrical piano music with intensely raw lyrics to pioneer/popularise the genre of punk cabaret.   It was always going to be interesting to see how they would follow up and build on such a unique start.   This is their 2nd studio album (or 3rd if you count A Is For Accident) following a gap of several years spent touring and building up a strong following.

Yes, Virginia comes from a reply in a newspaper printed in response to a little girl asking if there was a Santa Claus.  For this album, The Dresden Dolls held a competition where their fans had to create artwork inspired by the different songs.  The winners are featured in the CD booklet.   Rather than featuring all new songs, this album features several older songs such as Sex Changes and Mandy Goes To Med School which didn't make it to the initial albums and have now been reworked for inclusion here.  (In fact, Mrs. O was originally on A is for Accident).   To be honest, it's those songs I prefer as I think they have a stronger impact.

Musically it seems like the band have opened up and have a more complex subtle sound and Amanda seems to have broadened her lyrical concerns beyond the intensely personal.  I think how you feel about this album is in part, determined about you felt about the original album.  If you enjoyed the raw emotional impact of songs like Girl Anachronism or Good Day, you may find this album a bit too staid and mature (especially in the middle parts).   However, if you found their original music a bit too histrionic and quirky (and I know there are people out there who thought that) then you may welcome the maturity and the move away from self-obsession.   Personally, I'm still on the fence --- there are some brilliant songs on the album but I don't know if it's down to how fresh they sounded when they first came out but I feel this album lacks the impact of their earlier efforts.

I think it will be make or break time when they release the follow up, provisionally titled No, Virginia (which once again, is going to be a mix of rarities and live cover versions rather than wholly new songs).  With Amanda due to release a solo album and Brian off playing/touring with other bands, I can't help wondering about the future of the band.  Is Yes, Virginia the sound of a band drifting apart and drifting into compromise or is it the sound of a band regrouping and evolving?  Or to put it bluntly, is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?


NOTE:  Unfortunately I was proved right and The Dresden Dolls have now split up.


Rasputina's 5th full-length album is a limited edition of one particular concert recorded live in Pittsburgh in 2004.  The 19 tracks cover their whole career although the majority (8 tracks) are from their most recent album, Frustration Plantation.  And although one of the cover versions, Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll is available on the Lost and Found EP, there is a great version of Heart's Barracuda that is previously unreleased.

I think hearing Rasputina live brings an added dimension to their music.  They sound heavier and fuller.  The good thing about the mix on this CD, however, is that Melora's beautiful vocals are never drowned out or overshadowed but instead complemented by Rasputina's unique sound.  Another great thing about a live CD is that it finally gives some of us a chance to hear Melora's bizarre and rather surreal onstage comments.

I'll admit at first, I wasn't too happy about the choice of tracks.   I thought they'd missed off some of their more popular earlier tracks like Brand New Key and Transylvanian Concubine as well as not including more rarities like their live versions of Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby's Got Back and Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It.  But I can see a certain logic in putting on lesser known album tracks to try and challenge the casual fan and encourage them to check out Rasputina's back catalogue.  In the end I accept it's always going to be difficult to please everyone but my opinion is that this album should be viewed as more of a straightforward live album than a greatest hits collection (although it does act as a good basic introduction to the band for those who are unfamiliar with their work).  It's a worthy addition to a great body of work by one of the most original bands around at the moment.