Let The Devil Take You All
I think I can say, after some deliberation, that I love The Spoils, which is an album by Zola Jesus. "After some deliberation" because there are several directions your attention can go when listening to The Spoils, and some of them tend in exactly the opposite direction of where I'm thinking I've actually ended up. When I thought that, maybe, I didn't like it, my thoughts were along the lines of a creed I have sort of adopted, one which I encourage others to consider, to wit: I don't care about the eighties or how cool you think they were. Eighties fetishism in itself is about as cool as strawman ex-hippies rhapsodizing about what a great time it was when the music really meant something. There is too much of it afoot now. It should be assaulted on all fronts.
But of course my creed, for all its appeal, is as ridiculous as eighties fetishism itself; the mish-mash of styles we loosely mean by "eighties" when referring to indie/alt music genres really was a pretty interesting moment, precisely because it was so scattershot. Did the eighties begin with FACT 10 (actually June 1979) and end with FACT 220 (actually November 1988)? Does it not really get its legs under it until HMS16 (March 1985)? What is the most certain signifier for "80s": a bass guitar put through a chorus pedal and a delay, an 808, or heavy echo on the vocals? Didn't Prince pretty much do all the things we mean by "the eighties," and a whole bunch more, at the pop level instead of at the bubbling-under-and-excavated-twenty-years-later one? What are we leaving out of the eighties when we describe a piece of music as sounding like it came from the eighties?
But in the end I am OK with a little eighties fetishism despite my lingering suspicions. I am OK with it because some eighties fetishists are making really interesting music. Zola Jesus is one of them. Warren Ellis says she sounds like Danielle Dax; I hear that, and Siouxsie too, though not the Siouxsie of Juju - what I hear is what I remember about hearing Join Hands through the shitty stereo at the punk rock house in Claremont while high. Which is the general vibe of the album: a room with dirty carpeting and some electronic music equipment and a person using it to make songs she can sing, whose lyrics will be obscured by filters and effects until they are only occasionally comprehensible, like a loud voice in a house next door clarifying itself from time to time when the person yelling walks past an open window.
That the overall sound of The Spoils is without question an aesthetic choice arrived at early in the process of becoming (rather than an aesthetic choice made after listening to the recordings some band, pick one, made after visiting a studio in Manchester or Boston or Manhattan circa 1982) is the sticking point: do you care? I don't. After some deliberation, I just don't. I think about it a little, but in the end, I've got the album, and the words I can wrestle from the choices it's made about how it wants to sound, and I've got the sleeve art, which seems to reference those early-eighties Nico albums that everybody loves now and nobody bought back then. And what I come away with is a lost but not too darkly-lost collection of songs which seems, really, to use its own fetishistic tendencies as a tool rather than as an end in itself, and which takes its source materials and really goes someplace with them. Which is why I love it, despite my allergy to anything that suggests nostalgia. It's really not very impressive to have heard a lot of 80s music; all music is free now to everybody. It is impressive to have heard a lot of 80s music and then created a musical persona who might have occupied a space entirely its own, had it existed in the period in which its eventual existence was made possible. It is impressive to have located the lacunae and set up house in one of them. It is worth a pretty close look.
TrackBack URL for this entry: