Purr Machine
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Ging Ging , 6/10

Phoenix's Caterwaul, fronted by chanteuse Betsy Martin and guitarist Mark Schafer, offered modest and atmospheric folk-rock on the 'album The Nature Of Things (Lost Arts, 1987) and on the EP Beholden (IRS, 1988). Their mature albums, Pin & Web (IRS, 1988) and Portent Hue (IRS, 1990), boast a far more melodramatic, melodic and guitar-driven sound. Killer Fish (Lost Art, 1991) was their last album.

In the meantime, Kevin Kipnis was playing bass with horror punks Kommunity Fk.

Martin and Kipnis formed Purr Machine in Los Angeles with Kirk Hellie on guitars. From the beginning, the new band showed that they had little in common with their precursors.
As displayed on Ging Ging (Cargo, 1999), Purr Machine's sound is a hybrid of electronic, gothic, dance and soul music. The most surprising transformation is Martin's, who turned from a rustic country queen to a roaring and seductive disco-soul diva who can also double as coarse and punchy rocker.
The driving disco beat, the looping guitar distortion and the catchy pop refrain of Circumstance and (the cover) of Send Me An Angel propelled Purr Machine into the charts and the discos. But the core of the album is subtler, oscillating between the hypnotic electronic dance groove with loud guitar distortion of The Moon And My Head Both Are Full and the trip hop of Regarding Mary, between the Alanis Morissette-inspired litany Keep Calm and the punding elettro-voodoobilly of Anice.
Songs border one or more genres, erupt into emotional outpours, retreat into textural doodling. Speak Clearly swirls into a solemn Enya-like chanting and soars with a slow, anthemic surge that recalls grunge. Perspicuous Minds is a transcendental hymn whose bass-heavy pace and martial percussions recall early Pink Floyd psychedelia. The trance quality of the music moves to the forefront in the exotic pieces that dot the landscape: the middle-eastern shuffle Darjeeling, the muezzin chanting of the a cappella There's More. The lengthy and dense Phoebe crowns their ambitions by weaving an instrumental and vocal counterpoint worthy of Cocteau Twins' dream-pop.
All the time, it sounds like Martin is singing gospel liturgy, regardless of whether the music is hedonostically danceable or derangedly psychedelic. Around her acrobatics, Kipnis builds an oneiric choreography that the guitar supplements with industrial ferocity. The whole comes through as a kinder, gentler, tender Nine Inch Nails.

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