Carla Bozulich - Boy (3 stars)

Carla Bozulich - Boy

An adventurous, unique, instinctive and powerful twist on folk, blues and gospel forms

(Constellation)

Los Angelite singer/ art-punk Carla Bozulich has done a lot that’s worthy of your ears over the couple of decades – most prominently, the savage country-punk of The Geraldine Fibbers and the more exploratory Evangelista, plus the Nels Cline Singers, Ethyl Meatplow, Scarnella and Bloody Claws, to name but a few. She’s also made some astonishingly forceful guest appearances with the likes of OvO, Mike Watt and The Book of Knots. Mostly performed and recorded entirely by Bozulich (with a little help, mostly drum-wise, from collaborators John Eichenseer, Shahzad Isamaily and Andrea Belfi), Boy is the fourth studio album to be released under her own name. She describes it as her 'pop' album.

It’s pop in that these songs have choruses and verses, and are steeped in what could loosely be called Americana, exhibiting elements of folk, blues and gospel. Yet it’s as if someone has taken these forms, beaten them with a shovel and left them out back for the vultures. Boy’s soundworld is extremely sombre, eerie and unnvering, full of paranoia and disconnection.

The strange, skittering opener ‘Ain’t No Grave’ sets the tone, a nervous almost-blues trying to clamber out from under a heap of bones, appropriately enough. ‘One Hard Man’ is more confident and strident, combining hypnotic industrial clank with dubbed-out electronic oppression. The buried, minimal blues of ‘Don’t Follow Me’ is mottled with hallucinogenic ambience, and builds to a purposefully thwarted climax. Elsewhere, Bozulich inhabits noir torch song played with Lynchian slowness; consumptive folk engaged in a last-gasp struggle with mortally wounded free jazz; and a funereal Orbison-style ballad. Best of all is the closing track, ‘Number X’, spare and sinister, remarkable for its non-linear precision.

Atop all of these pieces is Carla’s voice. It’s an incredibly compelling instrument: fragile, desperate, imposing, feral – elemental but overwhelmingly human, suffused with barely controlled emotions and hard experience. Here, she often slips into dead-eyed chanting of mantras, a quasi-mystical invocation of the most basic essence of her musical touchstones, if not the specifics of their forms. She’s capable of some of the most violently explosive vocals you’ll ever hear, yet across these ten tracks she’s subdued, almost broken. You want her to scream obscenities at the world, to pierce the relentlessly downbeat, damaged and woozy mood, but she can’t or won’t, denying our needs in a way that’s both brilliant and frustrating. Adventurous, unique, instinctive and powerful, Boy invites but then negates catharsis.

Out now on Constellation Records.

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