What I remember most about Rasputina was their slightly popular “Transylvania Concubine”. The song was immortalized in the minds of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans during an episode in season 2 when Drusilla is organizing a party and dances her way down the stairs with Rasputina’s cello-oriented pop number playing in the foreground. While on tour as Nirvana’s cellist, lead frontwoman Melora Creager claims to have learned how to avoid immense fame—practicing a kind of aloof pop/alternative/rock career. Yeah, right. Mimicking a career after the most seminal grunge band of the ‘90s was probably the first misstep in that philosophy, with signing to a major label for your first two records as the second. It does, however, make for a convenient scapegoat to ward off those uncomfortable confrontations of questions such as “what are they doing now?” and “they’re still making music?”
Rasputina definitely hasn’t succeeded to mainstream success. That’s not directly related to the quality of their music, but rather their insistence to fight against anything mainstream, be it production technique, album design, or fashion. The group is a quasi-smorgasbord of 17th century peasant styles, mixed with Wiccan-reminiscent vocal tendencies. Original enough, they’re the only cello-focused pop group I know of. Their appeal rests mainly with the artsy female pseudo-hippy crowd, with flat product-heavy hair, painted every color of the rainbow wearing clothes that aren’t the slightest bit flattering. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that; I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.
The group tends to steer towards purposefully lo-fi music with enough badly sung notes to send the casual music listener into hysterics, and on Great American Gingerbread, a collection of Rasputina rarities and neglected items, this couldn’t be more true. However, this is what’s most redeeming about this rag-tag collection of little ditties—if that’s the proper term you can assign to cello-based pop music. There is nothing polished about these tunes, which makes them all the more endearing. There’s also nothing immediately ear-catching about these tunes. Not a single one of them stands out as full-length album caliber. They’re definitely overwrought with odd vocal harmonies, irritable guitar screeching, and disjointed drum and percussion looping, all of which are accented perfectly by some deftly played cello pieces. The music is meant to occasionally unease the listener, attempting to lure them just enough with occasionally sweet melodic hooks. Songs are even repeated here. “Black Hole Hunter” and “Black Hole.2” are separate renditions of the same song, initially intended to appear on the trio’s 2007 release Oh Perilous World. Both are odd numbers, with the first version utilizing the easily discernible drum loop from Rihanna’s megahit “Umbrella”.
All of Melora’s eclectic and eccentric leanings are in full display here. See: “Mysterious Man-Monkey”, where Melora spends five and a half minutes reading a newspaper clipping from an India “monkey man” story while background vocals of herself are played against imperceptible percussion beatings. The collection is also mislabeled. “Mysterious Man-Monkey” is erroneously labeled as “The Ballad of Lizzie Borden”, a track that Melora claims to have written at the tender age of 7, with support from her mother. The latter isn’t anywhere to be found on the album. The last three tracks on the album play as if “Lizzie Borden” was never intended to be on this release in the first place.
All in all, Great American Gingerbread plays like an exercise in self-indulgence and is something only die-hard fans could easily digest. Those unfamiliar with the incredibly prolific nature of Melora’s music-making might want to begin with a more easily accessible collection of tunes, perhaps one that doesn’t begin with a three-tiered harmonic howling by Melora on an opening number titled “Pudding Crypt”, about rebirths of deities and goddesses. For those die-hard fans who have stuck with Rasputina for 15 years now, surely they are familiar with the oddities this predominantly female trio offers, and for that they will be nicely rewarded for their loyalty. Great American Gingerbread is a precious little gem of tunes best absorbed by those who know what they’re getting themselves into.
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// Notes from the Road
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