Steve Wilson. On music.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Coathangers - Larceny & Old Lace (Suicide Squeeze)

Imagine a frolicsome female foursome twisting the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” into a Marilyn Manson parody. It’s funny, rocking and a little chilling. Welcome to Larceny & Old Lace, the third album from Atlanta’s Coathangers. The song in question, “Hurricane,” is exhibit ‘A’ in the Coathangers aesthetic – an anything goes as long as they’re having a good time modus operandi that serves them well. Their sound is rooted in the brittle declarations of Riot Grrrl 1993 (think Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear … but L7 and Babes in Toyland, too) and the angular chord-free dance-punk of early Eighties No-Wave. But the Coathangers are anything but orthodox; if it falls into their processor, they’re about hitting the switch.

You can hear the dark echoes of girl group sounds on songs like “Go Away.” The vocal is sweet, but with undertones of Yoko Ono desperation. In this case the ladies are intent on having some guy stray (hell, cheat … just go away), all delivered to a Magnus chord organ sounding keyboard tease and the sass of Blondie’s “Just Go Away” (the songs’ near namesake). But it’s not as if the Coathangers aren’t longing for love. Sure they are. On “Trailer Park Boneyard,” to the accompaniment of a rattling guitar figure (Echo, Cure, post-punk vintage), they project their characteristic sweet to shriek vocal identity, hoping for love as transformation (‘cuz I’m always nowhere and I can’t be me’). Generally it’s guitarist Julia Kugel doing the girlier parts and drummer Stephanie Luke executing the Kat Bjelland wail. But ya gotta be careful - they trade vocals and instruments, and even vocal identities; theirs is the kind of collective art that emerged from friendship before musicianship. And their developing musicality hasn’t diminished their expressionist vibe.

“Sicker” appropriates the relentless vamp from the Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not in It” for the verses, but segues seamlessly to a garage-psych feel for the chorus. Throw in a Shangri-Las hand-clap break for yet another example of the band’s playful eclecticism. A girls-just-want-to-have fun quality lends a B-52s buoyancy to cuts like “Jaybird” and “Johnny;” the former a garage-punk serenade to a ‘little runaway,’ and the latter an electro-shock rhythm and blues workout – vocals like Lydia Lunch on nitrous, and a pleasingly wacked out piano splash that sound like a lysergic moment from the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Mallets and minimal keyboards (why do they make me think of Moondog?) lay a foundation for the un-equivocally sentimental “My Baby” (‘you know you want me too’).  “Well Alright’s” pleasingly shrill vocal attack propels a post-Suzi Quatro rock stomp. The Coathangers are all over the place, stretching themselves and their competencies, endearingly; nowhere as affectingly as on the album closer “Tabbacco Rd.” A devotional ballad to a boy named Tom Collins (?), Kugel (I think) lands her love in the classic girl group fashion (at the “sacred heart church at 6:39 I made you mine”) – rather like Patti Smith seized the love of her transformed “Gloria.” Coitus … gets you every time. It’s a casually frank, surprisingly pretty song, serving both as pallet cleanser and a confirmation that the Coathangers are here to defy your expectations.

Larceny & Old Lace (ostensibly a title copped from an old Golden Girls episode) is the Coathangers first release recorded in a ‘real’ studio. Engineers and confidantes, Ed Rawls and Justin McNeight, are fellow Georgians with a resume that includes work with home-boys like the Black Lips and Deerhunter. They do a great job of channeling the Coathangers creative sparks. The result is an album with plenty of overdubs and magic in the mix that still sounds loose and spontaneous. The band’s post-punk mange combined with cool, developing pop sensibilities makes a heady mix – not for the faint of ear, but a ton of fun once you ride their wave.

Reverberating: 8.3

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