Former Geraldine Fibbers vocalist Carla Bozulich released a fantastic album in 2006: Evangelista. It was evidently so good (along with the fact that she now had a band) that she released her next album, Hello, Voyager, under the Evangelista alias. That was one of the finest records of last year. Prince of Truth is the second Evangelista album – can it continue the run of excellence?
Short answer: yes. Bozulich is an otherworldly talent, and the players she has been working with for the last few years complement her perfectly. Hello, Voyager was a record of vast emotional diversity; it touched on the rain-spattered melancholy of Evangelista, but juxtaposed it with exuberant exhortation to the listener, defying categorisation. It translated, with seemingly matchless intensity, to the live setting. She pulls you into her personal underworld, strips herself and the audience emotionally naked, and makes you love it.
Prince of Truth is less extravagant, in the PT Barnum, big top, sense, but absolutely destroys on other levels. ‘You Are Jaguar’, for example, stirs up a bewildering whirlwind of intricate, lovely, noise. Unlike traditional noise-music, this isn’t a brew of distortion, drone and feedback, but an instrumental arrangement that brings to mind the best of Godspeed You! Black Emperor condensed into four minutes. This shouldn’t be too surprising: the album was recorded at Hotel 2 Tango in Montreal, with players including various Quebec post-rockers. But where, say, Silver Mt. Zion settles for so-so singing, the likes of Nadia Moss and Thierry Amar – as well as Tzadik collaborator Shahzad Ismaily – get to work with one of the finest vocalists around.
This is most obvious on the desolately exquisite ‘I Lay There In Front Of Me Covered In Ice’. There is organ, percussion, guitar and more, but it’s all merely aural mise-en-scène for Carla’s gentle duet with herself. While she can channel Hades through her body and out of her mouth in quite frightening fashion, she can also sing as gently, touchingly, as anyone. She sets a forbidding scene as vivid as the Bad Seeds’ ‘Weeping Song’: “go tell your momma there’s a dead man in the bathwater / Or go tell your father that the town’s lost another daughter”.
That’s not to say she doesn’t bring the fury and vocal brimstone when necessary, as on the aforementioned ‘You Are Jaguar’. Prince of Truth sees Bozulich bring everything, as she usually does, at the right time. I could mention the wonderfully sparse string arrangement on ‘Iris Didn’t Spell’, the surreal film noir of ‘Tremble Dragonfly’ or the epic, pitch black concluding lullaby of ‘On the Captain’s Side’. But it’s all so consistently good that this review would stretch into the thousands, rather than hundreds, of words.
Carla Bozulich should be an icon at this point: Nick Cave without the horrid recent cabaret-and-‘tache phase; a more prolific Scott Walker; a sexier Blixa Bargeld; an infinitely better version of pretty much any post-rock this decade. And yet, not post-rock at all. Not alternative country, nor near-industrial, nor no-wave. A personnel list on Bob Mould’s self-titled 1996 album simply read “Bob Mould is Bob Mould”. In that case, the only justified point of description would be to declare, admittedly obviously, that Carla Bozulich is Carla Bozulich.
You can also read this review over at Fact Magazine. And it’s one of their Recommended Albums, as well it should be. I’d also like to mention how tough it is to review Carla. I was going to review her live show from last summer, but Fact declined. She apparently wasn’t sufficiently cool, though thankfully, they are now on board with her awesomeness. Sometimes ‘cool’ isn’t directly related to how dubsteppy it is. But I digress. She’s tough to review. In a way, I was quite relieved I didn’t have to review that gig, because it was such an emotionally intense, personally moving, experience, that it would have been hard to express to the reader. I know that’s the coward’s way out; reviewing isn’t supposed to be easy. And it is supposed to be about articulating the intangible; expressing quite why a particular experience or work of art is worthy of someone’s time.
So I’m glad I got to do this. Carla’s records are never easy, either to listen to or to explain. This one went okay though – I’m quite happy with it. And the gig? Hopefully I will be sufficiently motivated, in the near future, to put together a list of my favourite gigs this decade. Rest assured it will be high on that list.