33 rpm (Priya Thomas)

33 rebellions per minute



If Quebecois songwriter Priya Thomas was nothing more than the sum of people she reminded me of, I'd still be strikingly fond of this, her second record (and yes, I'm planning to order her debut at some point, from A + B Sound). Her vocals are about what you'd get by teaching Jane Siberry's voice, in its youthful (early-80's) angelic purity, how to sing ambitious Tori Amos-shaped melodies to the uncomfortable key and chord-change specifications of Veda Hille, with a fair amount of Tori's mannerisms but not enough to be ghoulish. Her guitar playing, on the six tracks where there isn't another guitarist to confuse the issue, often reminds me of GUYVILLE-era Liz Phair's, but heavily reverbed and with a subtlety that seems more intentional than Liz's naive inspirations ever did. See how "Mute"'s hesitant mix of low 3-note upscalings, in which neither the echo nor her half-whispered singing drowns out the scrapes of her fingernails along the strings, eventually emerges as a slow wall of guitar noise, downshifts again, and adds very Herb Heinz-like chicken-scratch playing around the guitar neck; or how on "Buried" she shifts from "Dance Of The Seven Veils" hollowness towards "Mesmerizing" semi-rock all by herself, also playing twittery accordian. The opening guitar solo to "Furious F" sounds, again not counting the added reverb, more like Ani DiFranco's aggressive staccato, an ever better role model.
Other songs add small extras to these virtues. "The Unforgiving Eye", a guitar-rocker, has elegant piano and choppy drum programming, and its sections extend a complicated melody among three different keys-- one of several methods Priya uses to create structure without the standard tension-release pattern of verse/chorus. "Cracking The Whip" finds another such method, going from some hushed, eerie basslines of the sort that Nirvana loved to set you up with, to a different hushed pattern that, though still minor key, serves nonetheless to brighten things considerably; _then_ comes the noise, only it's a slow percussive burn, like a Miranda Sex Garden track that's cut off before it reaches its destructive peak. "Bellows" samples the busy jangle of some really wonderful church bells. "Cowboys"'s Phair-style guitar is shaped into a country-rock waltz with harmonica and a xylophony synth patch. "So Many Ways" is the designated AOR power-ballad, and if it doesn't quite avoid triggering my instinctive "power ballads are icky" wince, I quickly give in to the fact that it's very well done: the bowed guitar and keyboards back a gorgeously winding melody and Priya's strongest singing, testing both her soprano and contralto limits, and passing easily.
That said, when I haven't been playing WEATHER CHANNEL this week, I've been spending a lot of time on Curve, My Bloody Valentine, Voivod, and Sleater-Kinney, trying only semi-successfully to duplicate the thrilling feel of Priya's "Antigone" and "Kali". "Antigone" is for me a peak expression of one of rock's agressively elemental forms: a 4-minute battering made of one defined 2 Foot Flame-ish feedback wail; one circling bowed-guitar part that fades steadily into the background; a pounding off-the-beat drum pattern; a bass line that sounds like chopped-up scraps of a funky Flea solo for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (I don't like the Peppers, but Flea is still an amazing bassist); a shiny, echoey but cutting guitar solo a la "Back Of Love" era Echo and the Bunnymen; and a structure drawn entirely from Priya's keening voice, who sings a melody sturdy and varied enough to support the whole structure. "Kali" is similar but simpler, its denseness needing only to survive a 2:35 sprint of panic. The slowly dawning fact that I'd never heard anything quite like them before is somewhat discouraging-- it doesn't _seem_ that hard to make. But at least I've heard it now, and if that isn't the point of buying albums, what is?

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