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Another Portland Blog

Saturday, May 22, 2004

 

Chamber music for the masses

I've been following Rasputina since they made an appearance on Conan a long while back. My attempts to pass along their music to friends and family have been met with a series of shrugs and "whatever"s. I guess some people just can't handle punk/electronica/chamber music.

Is the band an acquired taste? I guess so. The current lineup consists of two women that dress in corsets and play cellos. On drums, the third member is a guy that looks like a young Rip Van Winkle. The band has created its own genre/playpen to run amok in. Rasputina's songs drift from quiet, melancholy string melodies to thrashing techno.

And then there's the lyrics: songs about bizarre historical events and fictional Bjork + PJ Harvey double-dates. Take "Rats," which tells the story of an incident in the 17th century when the Pope attempted to offset a famine by allowing Catholics to eat rats. A sample line: "We thank the Pope for this wish/on Friday we'll all call rats fish."

A staple of their albums has been the inclusion of spoken word history lessons among the songs. In one, lead singer Melora Creager (who played with Nirvana during their MTV Unplugged set) tells a story about how early American settlers used holy water enemas to fight sinners and suspected witches. Another addresses the mentality and logistics of the Donner party's feast of famine. If this all sounds incredibly macabre, well, it is. But it's also incredibly funny. Each song is drenched in a healthy doss of humor and irony to counterbalance the grim subject matter.

Unfortunately, their albums have been hit or miss. Rasputina's debut, Thanks for the Ether, is a unique masterpiece. Sometime after its release, the band hooked up with Marilyn Manson (never a positive influence) who remixed a few of the songs on an EP. Their follow-up, How We Quit the Forest, was, simply put a messy imitation of his bile-spewing electonica. The band has been in recovery ever since. Rasputina toned things again for their third release, Cabin Fever and it was return to form. Now for #4, Frustration Plantation, the band is shifting its lyrics to focus entirely on the provincial South.

Rasputina is playing Dante's on Tuesday but I don't think I'm brave enough to go. What's the target audience for this sort of thing? Goths? Chamber maids? Either way, I'm not willing to dye my hair black or dress up like Lestat the vampire to slip in among them. If I owned a spy cam, I guess I could watch the show from a safe distance. To the spy store!

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Also a quick note about April March. I've also tried passing her discs off but there have been few takers. If everyone's new favorite band Rilo Kiley were fronted by a former Pee Wee's Playhouse cartoonist that sings songs in English and French, it would something like March. Her music is incredibly accessible and deviates from Kiley-style anthems to '60s European pop. It's strange that she never hit it big on the indie rock scene. At least the Dust Brothers enjoy her stuff.

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