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Carla Bozulich
Boy JR Moores , March 14th, 2014 07:19

Carla Bozulich reckons that Boy is her "pop album". On first listen, this claim seems faintly ridiculous. The first track, for instance, kinda resembles Big Sexy Noise, a group who are not known for filling the O2 Arena or collaborating with 'Ain't No Grave' might be less chunkily distorted than Lydia Lunch's Gallon Drunk-assisted rock brigade, but it also has mad drums that crash, flap and flail all over the place as if Bozulich has placed the Lernaean Hydra behind the kit and instructed it to bash away at those skins with every available head, limb, tail and wing. The following number sounds like it's echoing out of an Eraserhead shantytown. Its clatteringly propulsive industrial-tribal backing track is so defiantly non-pop it could have slotted comfortably into Liars' no-wave witchcraft opus They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.

Okay, so Bozulich's new compositions are not as meanderingly, post-rockingly beat-poetic as her recent work with/as Evangelista. None are permitted to exceed the five-minute mark and they tend to be adorned with proper things like verses and choruses and whatnot. But Boy can only be considered "pop" in the same way that the Bad Seeds are more "pop" than the Birthday Party. Or the second Grumbling Fur album is more "pop" than the first one. Or Sonic Youth's Confusion Is Sex is more "pop" than those ones where it's just feedback all the way through. Play Boy to your average Little Monster devotee of Lady "I'm, like, super into the avant-garde" Gaga and they'll still suffer a very confused and irate seizure.

I suppose that's why it's "her pop album" rather than "a pop album". Her "skew-whiffed post-blues album" might be a more accurate description. That probably doesn't look as eye-catching on the press release. How about her "unsettling yet enigmatic, unstable, dystopian neo-roots album"? Ho-hum, my words will never make it onto a promotional sticker on the top-right corner of a CD case (the uppermost realistic aspiration for the modern music critic). However, just because she's not strictly "pop" doesn't mean Bozulich shouldn't be more popular. Cheekily evoking times past, while simultaneously hacking out strange new paths through the musical jungle with her creaking guitar-cum-machete, Boy is chock-full of refreshingly-warped trad shapes that are sure to entice, fascinate and thrill anyone with any passing interest in the good music of the past century or so. 

The calmly disconcerting 'Drowned To The Light' has the bleak feel of postmodern spaghetti westerns such as Deadwood or The Proposition, with its chain-gang tune and atmospheric fiddle. Backed by a warm, groovy organ, 'Lazy Crossbones' could be a slightly cheerier, rustic cousin of Portishead. More of a timeless ballad, you can imagine David Lynch falling hopelessly head-over-heels for 'What Is It Baby'. There's also a lil' bit of Tarantino kitsch lurking somewhere in its cinematic thicket. 'Number X', on the other hand, is brimming with anxious, oracular post-rock tension. It ends too soon after one terse verse. Is that what she meant by "pop"? And then there's 'Danceland', the standout masterpiece. Beginning as some sort of murky gospel lullaby, its mid-section starts to echo Sonic Youth's fearsome 'Death Valley '69'. By the end... well I honestly can't remember the last time we heard a vocalist manipulating the very distortion on their microphone to such powerful effect. She wields it like a whole extra instrument.

You know that viral short-movie in which women are recast as the dominant gender, treating men as despicably as blokes treat lasses in our own godforsaken reality? Well over in that parallel universe, Bozulich could be as unit-shiftingly and ticket-floggingly revered as Nick Cave or Tom Waits are here (BTW, in that topsy-turvy dimension, Nick Cave tip-toes shivering, nude and objectified on the cover of Push The Sky Away, while his besuited wife stands dominant at the window, asserting ownership over her hubby's body and mind). Yes, Boy confirms that Bozulich is at least as good as Cave or Waits at contemporising the blues, at crafting bold, gritty, assertive art that is enchantingly oddball yet still accessible, not to mention infinitely rewarding.

She even manages to beat the blues and (alt)country "outsider" crossover superstars at their own game while satirising them at the same time. That first track jests that "I'm a man, don't you see that I am? Why do you think that I sing about these things that I do?" By the second track she's chanting sardonically about her (fruitless?) quest "looking for the one hard man". Later, by offering the hollow promise that "I'm gonna stop killing today / Make better use of my hands", she appropriates the masculine murder ballad and takes a stab at terminating it for good with her lyrics. Hinting that this is but an impossibly utopian daydream through the pessimistic tone of her world-weary vocal performance, she at least manages to spotlight this sub-genre's innate absurdity by sticking an silly waltzy bit in the middle. Why isn't Bozulich held in the same regard as Waits, Cave, Cohen, Cash or that hairy fella from Lift To Experience? Why isn't she granted their same level of respect and admiration, and bestowed with all the fame, riches and glossy music mag cover features that she deserves? Probably because she isn't what she's titled her album. She isn't a boy.