Rasputina: Live at The Troubadour & New Mp3

For her first guest post on Muruch, Starlite Diner‘s Laura joined the crowd entertained by Rasputina at The Troubadour in L.A. on August 14th. Following is her take on the show and an mp3 from the band’s new album…

The Troubadour has stories. In the walls, when you lean in too close, you can hear and feel the echoes of music and musicians. This is the place of music history, the Los Angeles edition, and one cannot help but expect something spectacular when you enter through its doors. On August 14th, in the audience watching Rasputina, that is exactly what happened – something spectacular.

Rasputina, part kinder-whore a’la 1990s, part gothic mistress, part Renaissance queen, and part Steam Punk warrior, is an experience that slithers into you, opening up something raw in you, and taking with it a bit of your soul.

I felt lost at times, not in a bad way, but definitely away from everything around me. The heartbeat thump of the drums, especially throughout songs such as “Sweet Sister Temperance” and “Saline The Salt Lake Queen,” were hypnotic – a musical temptation luring me into the ether.

“High On Life” channeled the musical souls of Jim Morrison, Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin – rock and roll meets the blues gone post-modern mystery. I swear, if I squinted my eyes and looked towards my right, I saw the three of them swaying along and passing a bottle between them.

My favorites of the night were the heartfelt “Holocaust of Giants,” off of the newly released album Sister Kinderhook, and the cover of “Teenage Kicks,” the 1978 hit song by The Undertones.

Though the music was truly the best part of the evening, playing second (and adding to those stories in the wall, I’m sure) were the commentary and asides spoken by frontwoman and musician, Melora Creager.

Rasputina – Holocaust of Giants (mp3)*

Muruch Album Review

Buy Album @ Amazon

Rasputina Official Site

*mp3 hosted by band & posted w/ permission of their PR rep

Rasputina: Sister Kinderhook

Rasputina‘s seventh studio album Sister Kinderhook will be released on June 15th. Led by singer-songwriter Melora Creager, Rasputina was the seminal band in what I used to call the “creepy girl genre” (that evolved into the broader demented circus genre). They’ve also been called “Steampunk,” a term usually associated with bands who marry punk-rock noise with Victorian style and science fiction or post-apolcalyptic elements. Though Rasputina’s style and lyrical narratives have always had more of a Colonial influence than a Victorian one and they make beautiful use of classical instrumentation in their arrangements. Whatever you call it, Rasputina’s music is truly unique and they continue to dazzle me.

Sister Kinderhook is said to explore “Colonial themes…Emily Dickinson, feral children and the Anti-Rent wars of 1844, not to mention the theory that giants were real, but killed each other off in a self-genocidal holocaust.” Which makes total sense to those of us already familiar with Rasputina’s wonderfully bizarre repertoire.

The opening track is one of my favorites. “Sweet Sister Temperance” has Rasputina’s signature eerie vocals and chamber folk instrumentation anchored by the deep bellow of a Melora’s cello, but there’s a nice retro pop-folk echo to the song’s recording. “My Night Sky” continues on that retro-folk theme with a tinkling acoustic melody snaking its way through the arrangement, but adds depth with lush strings and multi-tracked vocals.

But the true stunners are nestled in the middle of the album, beginning with the rhythmic sitar and percussion instrumental “Olde Dance.”

“Humankind as the Sailor” and the delicious “Calico Indians” resurrect the best elements of old school Rasputina style, but amplify the heavy bass sound of the cello. The former pretties it up with a sea chantey vocal style and the latter quakes in a crescendo of voices and strings that sounds like Siouxsie Sioux leading a chamber orchestra. Meanwhile, Melora’s creeping falsetto sounds more like Hannah Fury (big compliment) on the delicate duo “Snow Hen of Austerlitz” and “Dark February.”

The chirping birds, Appalachian pluck, and choral vocals of “Kinderhook Hoopskirt Works” and the haunting piano finale “This, My Porcelain Life” are especially astounding. The songs give the album’s end an epic feel. Most artists push their weakest tracks to the second half of the album, but Melora Creager has never been like most artists.

Time will tell if these new songs have the endurance of Rasputina classics like “Gingerbread Coffin” and “Transylvanian Concubine,” but for now I think Sister Kinderhook is Rasputina’s strongest work since 2002’s Cabin Fever (my personal favorite of their albums).

The tinny production of “Holocaust of Giants” made its frenzied, high-pitched vocals grate on my nerves at first (I so dislike digital albums), but it grew on me with subsequent listens. But don’t judge the entire album by this one track, because it doesn’t represent the whole at all. It’s simply the only mp3 I could clear to share…

Rasputina – Holocaust of Giants (mp3 removed) *

*mp3 provided by & posted w/ permission of band’s PR rep

You can hear samples of other tracks at the links below.

Buy @ Amazon

Rasputina Official Site

Zoe Keating: One Cello X 16: Natoma

One Cello X 16: Natoma was the debut solo release from former Rasputina cellist Zoë Keating. Keating recently appeared on Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and will also be heard in the score of the new movie The Secret Life of Bees. Every sound on Zoë’s own album was played on acoustic cello, then looped and repeated to flesh out the arrangements. Even the percussive sounds were simply made by knocking, brushing, or tapping the body of the cello. Keating calls the technique “layered cello” and her musical style “avant cello”. She manages to evoke as many different noises from one instrument as Xavier Rudd does from a multi-instrumental platform.

“Legions (war)” ebbs and flows with quiet foreboding, while “Fern” is performed in more a classical style with a few haunting flourishes. “Frozen Angels” is a gentle, melancholy hum that conjures up wintry images.

The darker “Tetrishead” stands out most. It is the rare instrumental that is so dramatic and multifarious, it would sound as brilliant with vocals (of the PJ Harvey variety).

Some of the songs are far too lengthy for the short span my attention has for instrumentals, but the concept of using one cello for so many effects is very interesting and each piece is impeccably performed.

Zoë Keating – Tetrishead (mp3 expired)

Zoë Keating Official Site

Buy @ Amazon

Amanda Palmer: Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls will release her debut solo effort Who Killed Amanda Palmer? (title inspired by Twin Peaks) on September 16th. Palmer’s original concept was of a simple piano and voice collection recorded in her bedroom within one week, but the arrival of producer Ben Folds brought the recording to a proper studio and transformed it into a slicker project embellished with string and orchestral arrangements. Folds contributes backing vocals, keyboards, and percussion to the album, while Rasputina’s Zoë Keating provides cello. Members of The Dead Kennedys and St. Vincent also make cameos. The album apparently contains liner notes written by graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, but the advance disc I received did not have any of the artwork.

Still I always shock them when I answer
“Hi, my name’s Amanda”
I’m not going to live my life on one side of an ampersand
Even if I went with you, I’m not the girl you think I am

Amanda names the opener as her “hands-down favorite” song on the album as well as the track that most represents her current songwriting style. “Astronaut” is initially driven by the thunderous force of Palmer’s piano before her somber alto slides in for the quiet opening verse. Then the chorus explodes into a soaring pop melody plumped up with whirring strings and clanging cymbals.

The hyperactive, atmospheric “Runs in the Family” is my personal favorite on the album. It’s an older song that I believe Amanda wrote during the “Girl Anachronism”/”Half Jack” era, and it definitely sounds more like a Dresden Dolls piece than the rest. The Dolls association may be why Palmer hesitated to put the song on the album, but fortunately Ben Folds convinced her to include it.

It sounds like Folds whispering “manda” at the beginning of “Ampersand”, but I can’t say for certain. The ballad features some lovely piano work, and perhaps Palmer’s most heartfelt vocal performance. To be honest, I didn’t like it much the first time I heard it. Amanda’s deep voice is not the easiest fit for so soft a song. But the second time around, something in the song – the intimate lyrics I suppose, maybe the surprising vulnerability in her voice – clicked with me and it’s since become another favorite.

“Leeds United” is the first single from the new disc, a slinky punk stunner built around a marching band chorus and Palmer’s spatial raspings. The tune was recorded spontaneously during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a group of local Scottish horn players. The chilling “Strength Through Music” is a sparse piano ballad originally inspired by and written during the aftermath of Columbine, but Amanda did not record the song until those memories were reawakened by the recent Virginia Tech shootings.

The quiet is quickly ripped back open by the swaggering “Guitar Hero” (featuring guest East Bay Ray of The Dead Kennedys), a cynical ode to the video game and its addicts in which Palmer finally lets her wail go. St. Vincent‘s Annie Clark lends her operatic soprano to the tinkling duet of Carousel’s “What’s The Use of Wondrin”.

The advance disc I received lists “Oasis” as track ten, but it’s been called “Melissa Mahoney” elsewhere. I think the latter title is the true one, though both phrases are in the song’s lyrics. Either way, Palmer refers to it as “a pop song about abortion”. “The Point of it All” is a heartier ballad that accentuates the more elegant tone of Amanda’s voice, while the pretty piano melody “Another Year” serves as the album’s wistful finale.

Amanda Palmer – Runs in the Family (mp3) (removed at label’s request after permission granted by artist’s manager…the trials of legal blogging)

Amanda Palmer MySpace
The Dresden Dolls Official Site

Buy @ Amazon

Eleni Mandell: Snakebite

I think I’ve talked enough about Eleni Mandell by now that I don’t need to elaborate too much here. Her 2001 effort Snakebite isn’t quite as impressive as her more recent releases, but there are several noteworthy tracks. Rasputina‘s Melora Creeger guests on the album.

Songs like “Dreamboat”, “I Believe In Spring”, “Man In The Paper Hat”, “Christine”, and “Dutch Harbor” foreshadow the jazzy sound of Miracle of Five (one of my 2007 Top 10 Albums), but are more noir than mellow. Melora Creager of Rasputina lends her cello to three of the aforementioned tracks.

“Alien Eye” has an interesting twist of marimba and vibes. “Snakebite” sounds like a Johnette Napolitano song, with rapid percussion and vocals that alternate between a deadpan growl and impassioned howls.

“Silverlake Babies” holds on to the jazz mood but slides in some pedal steel that’s closer to the twang of Country For True Lovers.

Eleni Mandell Official Site
Eleni on MySpace

Buy the CD or Mp3s