I used to have a couple of Distillers records, but then my hard drive crashed.
My friend Kevin is a big fan, and what with my casual interest in the punk rock, he thought I'd like them. So a couple of years ago, I picked up Coral Fang and (I think) the self-titled one, and liked them, more than most things I hear on Hellcat/Epitaph/whatever punk label they're on. I could never believe that it was actually a woman singing those songs, cause those were some gnarly, raspy, whiskey-and-razorblade vocals. But, they sounded good and I liked them, although I got most of my "gutter punk" love out in one concentrated burst in high school, I do enjoy it, and they were a lot more tuneful than their often too-grimy-for-my-ears bred'ren.
Point being, that I heard them, I liked them, and then I rarely bothered to walk over to the corner I kept them in, you know? Which is why I'm as surprised as anyone that Brody Dalle's new project, Spinnerette, just put out a record that's now in the running for my Top Ten of '09, a good year for my listening if there ever was one.
See, I went to Kevin's wedding last weekend, and he set me up with the Distillers discography, to replace the ones I ripped and sold. They came in MUCHO handy on our drive from Warsaw, IN to the Indy airport, because on the way up, we had no CDs in the rental car - just rural Indiana radio. Which is grim. Christian Country and Regular Country grim. "All-Skynyrd Weekend" grim. But listening to those Distillers records again in an isolated environment reminded me of just how (*ahem*) tuneful they are. Kevin had played me a little bit from frontwoman Brody's new project Spinnerette, which is to Queens of the Stone Age as the Distillers were to Rancid. Apparently, Brody's a gal who tends to shapeshift depending on her current beau (not true, but it's an easy analogy to make, and I'm feeling tired and lazy*), and while it's not a WILD departure, it certainly sounds more like current dude Josh Homme's band than her mush-mouthed ex's mohawk brigade.
The opener, "Ghetto Love", sets the tone, with robotic (yeah, I used it again) drums/claps, a fuzzed out Devo bassline, but downtuned, like the Network gone a little sexier and a little more badass. Brody reveals her inner Rachel Nagy, applying her rasp not to a punky yowl, but a snarling croon. I never listened to the Distillers for their sex appeal, but Spinnerette sounds like a sexy, amp-fuzzed assembly line. Brody's probably at her best here, as far as vocals are concerned. As much as I love a crazy-ass Australian punk woman screaming bloody murder at me, this record connects a little more with my hips. The mixing on the record, as well, pushes the Queens comparisions, but they're really comparisons that could be made to any of the projects in that Homme/Goss/Johannes axis - parts appear out of nowhere, set strangely in the stereo field, surprising you with dry, up-front backing vocals, or reverbing a bassline into near-oblivion. Its effect might be a straightforeward hard rock record, but none of the parts tell you that's where it's going... it might as well be a primer for psychedelic production with piledriving guitar riffs as the base, "just because".
The playing and production on this are all top notch, with far more apparent care into the actual sonics of the record than the Distillers (hey, that's not a knock, I just know what it's like to record punk rock), but this is clearly Brody's show. Her vocals go from dangerous to delicate, evidenced on the lovely and hauting "Distorting A Code". She sounds effortless, but clearly a lot of thought went into her musical and vocal performances. Delicate and thoughtful are not two adjectives I would have expected to apply to Dalle's vocals 3 years ago, but it's a very pleasant surprise. It's just as carefully-crafted as anything you've ever heard - the sound of a talented but pigeonholed artist wanting to show what she can do. And she is an artist, despite what some might think of the Distillers punk bashing, and this is her "no, really, I can do all KINDS of stuff" album. It's to her credit that she had a clear vision and knew which sympathetic sidemen to pick to acheive it. Does it belong in the Desert Rock family? Absolutely. But it certainly sounds like an original take on it. My love of punk rock girls and talented artists and bludgeoning riff-rock and robotic pop hooks all tell me I love this record, and I do. So there we go. Spinnerette is now in the running for one of the highly coveted spots on my Top Ten of '09 List.
[*Yeah, it's glib, and I shouldn't feel the need to justify a pithy comment in an otherwise flattering review, but upon review, her intentions certainly seem genuine, and the artists she's quoted as influences seem feasable. Brody deserves better, as a woman in rock, than for some douche like me to make a sexist comment like "she sounds like whatever man-rocker she hangs around", although I might make the same comparision if she were a guy in the bands, not dating the respective frontmen. If the shoe fits, right? But this is more Queens than Rancid.]