One-woman band Elizabeth Sharp is the skewed mastermind behind Live at the Holiday Sin, her third full-length release under the name Ill Ease. The title is inspired by the origin of the recording: Sharp recorded everything inside a room of a rundown motel near Atlantic City, New Jersey. Even without the geographic specifics, though, the title is appropriate, because this music sounds every bit as dirty and perverse as what goes on behind closed doors of cheap lodgings.
Sharp, who formerly played drums with New Radiant Storm King and was bassist and vocalist for Skinner Pilot, plays just about every instrument on Holiday Sin, and does an admirable job. From the frenetic drum loops on “Dear Krazy” and “Jackie on Acid” to the bells and keyboards that sweeten “The Static’s Beat”, she adds plenty of interesting sounds to what is a fairly simple production. The lo-fi approach is even charming in places, like on the sloppy, late-‘80s-style college rock of “Whatever Turns U On”. After listening to nearly a dozen under-produced songs, however, the approach becomes somewhat monotonous.
Still, the instrumentation is sharp and assured, which is more than can be said for Sharp’s muffled, sing-song vocals. Although many of her lyrics are difficult to decipher, there are some audible doozies, like “I should have fucked you when I met you” (“Ruler of the Ho-dom”); “So come on and give in / To the temptation / Let’s hole up for the weekend / At some Holiday Sin” (“The Static’s Beat”); and “Let’s play babysitter / Let me sit on your face” (“Me & My Babysitter”). It’s too bad Sharp doesn’t give these sexually charged words a confident enough reading to give them the kind of bite they deserve. Much like Juliana Hatfield, Sharp writes music that is so muscular that it overpowers her weak voice.
Ultimately, for all their sonic innovations, the songs on Holiday Sin come off like incomplete sketches. Sharp clearly has a lot of talent, but it won’t result in a truly great album until she’s figured out how to work around her weaknesses or at least better integrate them into her sound.
// Notes from the Road
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