June 20, 2009


Girls On Fire, Girls Who Grew Up To Be Arts Administrators 5xcdr (EEEEEEEE Records)

(Brief background: Leslie Singer began her music career in Washington, DC, as part of an industrial band,Psychodrama, then fled to NYC (where she might have picked up a bit of the skronkiness in her sound) and from there to San Francisco (where, other than possibly a case of weirdness that rivaled The Residents, though sounding nothing like them, the town seemed to have little effect). She moved on from these ’83-’85 cassettes to film, though she is evidently thinking of returning to music).


This cassette (and now CD) contains seven lengthy pieces of guitar noise, distorted vocals and venomous poetry to rival Lydia Lunch, Patti Smith and Kim Gordon at their most nasty. Every song title begins with an ‘I’, but they do not appear to be direct personal confessionals, at least in terms of anything profoundly autobiographical (I would like to think so, anyway). Some of the vocals almost sound as though they were recorded at night under the covers on a portable cassette player, being very close-miked and sometimes unintelligible. The guitars – well, they’re loud, tormented, seemingly attacked with various scratchy substances and, other than perhaps ‘I Ride The Bus Everyday’, which has, if not a hook, then at least a repeated bass-heavy guitar racket, they are not there to amuse you (well, perhaps they might, but you have one sick sense of humour if they do). ‘I Saw A Car Crash’ sounds like what Taffy Davenport might have made if she had been an art-punk rather than a destined-to-die-young Hare Krishna in Female Trouble. Not fun, but certainly unique and very forceful.


This time, the pieces are a bit shorter (16 instead of 7). “Grace Kelly Never Used The Word ‘Fuck’”, in addition to being a wonderful title, begins to show the academic background of our heroine, as she chides the use of the phrase ‘crazy and/or stupid’ many times (and manages to hold the naughty word for an alarmingly long time) – this time, there seems to be an electronic pulse of some sort, as well as bursts of static and what may or may not be ‘real’ percussion, so there is something approximating rhythm, though this is not a disco cassette. The repeated proclamation of the title line in ‘Here Comes Picasso’s Ghost’ almost qualifies as a hook, since she vocalizes it in a rather Ethel Mermanesque brassy style (far from tuneful, but certainly cutting through). “Underwear with No Holes” has an almost catchy beat, and is close to pop-tune length (not in sound). “Cat Vomit Punk House” revisits themes from earlier pieces over a sort of troubled guitar hook (think Sonic Youth rather than The Beatles). “The Almighty Beat” sees our chanteuse experimenting with harmonies (the operative term being ‘experiment’) for about two minutes – this time, I’m almost CERTAIN she’s doing multi-tracking like I did – from one cheap tape player to another, which she carries on into the “let’s hit many objects for a rhythm track” brief selection “The Sky Up In The Sky”. I’m pretty sure “Sick of Donuts” is a metaphor for the stultifying nature of labour under capitalism – because surely you could find SOMETHING to eat other than donuts – this is spoken word with some noises that may just be tape artifacts from the transfer to CD. “Skyscrapers Are Maternal” is actually funny, I think (if something falls from the universe, it will hit the tall building before us, so they protect us like our mothers – of course, at this stage in history, things hitting tall buildings have unpleasant associations…). “Ron Gilmore” has an almost locomotive beat to it, a la “Mind Train” by Yoko (though much less funky) – again, you won’t be able to dance to it… “Helen Schwab” is almost approaching pop music (in a Bizarro world, though), as it has a repeated tuned percussion figure and a, well, steady (if not accomplished) drum pattern – but her philosophy on life is, well, forbidding of air play. “Rotten Bananas” actually sounds like Jandek. Remember, I would consider this a good thing…you might not…


Alarmed by her own commercialism on the previous release, Leslie begins by tormenting us (and a live audience) with the screaming and static of “Dead Poets Don’t Shave Their Heads” (it’s true, though) and “Camus’ Car Crash”. “My Calvins” is slightly less noisy, but the final sentiment is pretty ugly (I won’t spoil the surprise), and the sound doesn’t get any nicer with “Fassbinder Had A Good Set Designer”. Perhaps slightly contrite, she then does #1-#4 on slightly more obvious and more ‘straight’ guitar (perhaps courtesy of the guest guitarist, Clara Lusardi), revealing there is actually something approximating tune and structure to her art attack. Not to worry, though – “Mary Davis Kills” will make you forget that…


Don’t be fooled by the similar title. This sounds nothing like the previous release. It sounds noisier. Her roots in industrial music are clearly in evidence. Lots of screaming, distorted and disembodied/echoed vocals; guitars being subjected to unnatural acts; use of what sounds like tapes, but might be a real person. The cassette listed no titles, and neither does the CD. It’s, well, like early Half Japanese (hint: this is not necessarily a compliment or an insult – more of a caution…).


And so we reach the end of our little story. This one is definitely live, and the ode to “Jessica Savitch” almost has a catchy guitar hook, though the vocals are sadly buried. Remember, I think Half Japanese have hummable tunes, though… “My Groovy Apartment” is very Jandek, too, with big strummed dissonances and a sort of bluesy-from-Mars vocal approach. The untitled fourth track has a catchy syncopated rhythm, though the guitar tune is not ‘catchy’ to the presumed ‘you’ who is reading this, unless ‘you’ are, like me, Jandek’s #1 fan. “South of Market” is midnight humour about how to avoid getting raped in San Francisco. “Life Is Too Funny” calls to mind the ‘pop’ songs Sonic Youth did at the time – which is to say, there is an actual chord structure and some rough song arrangement, but it is far from, oh, Flock of Seagulls. It all concludes with the familiar shriek and guitar-murder of “Camus Crashing”. And so we have come full circle…and the Girls are still on Fire…

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