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
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,
Nine Inch Nails.
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