Gothic alt-rock played with cellos -- it sounds pretty horribly precious, doesn't it?
And it would be, if Rasputina weren't such great musicians, who could mingle tragic history stories with quirky chamberpop and classical instrumentation. And their latest album "Oh Perilous World" comfortably straddles the fence between rock and cabaret, and seems to be having fun while it does so.
It opens with a creepy, ominous cello melody, and Melora Creager's girlish voice telling us solemnly, "In the spring of 1315/There began an era of unpredictable weather/It did not lift until 1851/You remember 1816 as the year without a summer." It's a rambling, weird song about Freemasons, Ben Franklin, Frankenstein, volcanoes and other such subjects.
Things get even stranger with the quirky chamber-rocker that follows ("choose me to be your champion/I am possessing of a very righteous style!"), not to mention the string of melodies that follow: clashing cellopop, gothic balladry, a rapid-fire rocker, a tinkly pop song, rambling interludes, and the sweeping beauty of "Old Yellowcake" and the sly "A Retinue Of Moons/The Infidel Is Me."
Rasputina is one of those genrebusting bands -- they manage to keep themselves rooted in rock, pop, chamber music, and still sound like they live in a big old ruined Victorian house with some friendly ghosts and a lot of newspapers. They're a little bit of everything, and have kept their quirk.
Obviously the main instrument here is cello. Lots of cello. And Creager knows how to mold it to her purpose, whether it's a melodious sweep, an awkward twang, or urgent dark chords like an electric guitar. But to keep it from getting monotonous, there's some fuzzy guitar in "Draconian Crackdown" that takes over the song, as well as a gentle piano in the ballads, and a jingle of bells here and there.
Creager has a pretty, girlish voice, but she sings some pretty weird, sometimes gruesome songs about broken butterflies, blood-spattered lace curtains and the descendants of mutineers. Some are taken from actual history. And how can you ignore lyrics so quirky as to tell you that a reaper is inthe flowerbed? Or that "I have charisma and of course a winning smile/I stand accused of being an audacious redeemer/Not a charge I can deny."
Full of history and dark humor, "Oh Perilous World" is a pretty solid chamber-rock album that has its moments of excellence. Definitely worth hearing, if nothing else for its cello playing.