Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Staying in School with Peaches
What’s the new thing in music? Hell, I don’t know, but I’ll take a guess: nekkid indie sex funk. For a while there, the indie community was ridden with emo asexuals, frigid liliths, and pomo androids. Nowadays you can’t turn a corner without stumbling on a mess of horny geeks bumpin’ and grindin’ like a Rick James Sunday afternoon. Disparate artists such as the Donnas, the Gossip, and Har Mar Superstar have stopped at nothing to cast the new puritanism out of indie music, and put the sex back in. The vanguard of this new trend is represented by a 33-year-old Canadian, a cross between Nina Hagen and Li’l Kim who goes by the nom de volupté Peaches. With a bumping new album entitled The Teaches of Peaches, and an omnisexual fan base that no longer finds sex to be ironic or tedious, Peaches has found her moment.
Toronto native Merrill Nisker began her musical quest in a folk duo called Mermaid Hotel, later punking things up in Fancypants Hoodlum. Inserting herself into the Toronto in-crowd, she participated in a Canadian sub-indie supergroup called the Shit—a side project that lives on in legend with its tales of Albert Ayler noise larded with X-Ray Spex attitude. This is where she found her voice and her new persona as Peaches—a sex-crazed autonomous woman hurdling through the world seducing all in her path. She teamed up with a fellow Shit named Gonzalez in a memorable duo, Peaches & Gonzalez, renowned for sexy live shows that would still have sent Larry Flynt speeding for the exit elevator. Peaches relocated to Berlin, where her neo-disco sex-raps caught on big. The rest is history—Elastica tour, “Lovertits” single, press hype at every turn. Taking a Weimar approach to stage performance, she could be either ruthlessly experimental and strange, or bravely solicitous and sexy. The reviews were mixed—some critics even considered her the worst live performer they’d ever seen. Despite the fact that her songs were unequivocally about het sex, her audience included a healthy contingent of gays, queers, lesbians, transsexuals. She was clearly doing something right. The world awaited her debut album, The Teaches of Peaches.
Sexy, compelling, fun, and strange, The Teaches of Peaches is one of the year’s defining albums. Contrary to what you’ve heard, this is not a hip-hop or rap album. Her delivery is bumping , her lines rhyme, and she’s got something resembling “flow”. But the tunes are just so spare and synthesized, the words so few, that only her cocksure fly-girl persona puts it into any urban hip-hop context. It’s more like the world’s funkiest new wave album, a porn soundtrack without visuals, a feminist tract without politics. She composed all the music herself on a Roland MC505 Groovebox, a retro machine whose relentless jostle of beats, skronks, and beeps is the perfect counterpoint to the carnal timbre of Peaches’ voice. When you open the CD booklet you see images of two men preparing for anal sex at a Peaches gig, Peaches with a black eye, Peaches showing off her unshaven armpits. You know you’re in for something different and very powerful.
The album begins with some ominous lo-fi rumbling and clickity-clack rhythm parts, sorta like a Barry White beacon sighted through New Wave fog. Wasting no time, Peaches steps up to the mic and sets up the plot: “Suckin’ on my titties like you wanted me, / calling me all the time like Blondie, / check out my Chrissie behind, / it’s fine all of the time, / like sex on the beaches”. You can hear some faint whooping and hollering in the background, indicating that this tune was actually recorded live. Throughout the song she defines a persona at once lusty and insouciant, with a sneering refrain that goes, “Huh? Wha?” as if her dirty monologue was interrupted for no good reason. “What else is in the teaches of Peaches?” Well, to be honest, not much. But that’s fine with us, ‘cause there’s only so much didacticism you can get out of gettin’ it on. In fact, this song hinges on its sing-along chorus—some advice to vindicate the lost memory of Wilhelm Reich—“Fuck the Pain Away”. Forget Prozac and Paxil—only the Peach can smite the pharmaceutical companies and inspire the masses simultaneously with natural cures such as this.
How long can she last? Can she keep on keepin’ on? On track two, “AA XXX”, an ode to her bra size, her stamina, her autonomy, she proves herself unstoppable. “I like the innocent type / deer in the headlight / rockin’ me all night / flexing his might / doin’ it right / keepin’ me tight / taking a bite / out of the Peach tonight”. In a world where the elusive power dynamics of sex have created a form of ideological trench warfare, it’s hard to deny the citrus refreshment offered by the Peach with her brights on, bearing down on an innocent priapic fellow. “Some people say that I keep my self-respect hidden in my cervix”, she tells us—with the additional implication that such people are untutored prudes.
The rest of the album is a cornucopia of goodies. I have to talk about them all. Even “Rock Show”, with its barreling faux guitar sound and arena grandstanding, is a head-turner despite being one of the more forgettable jokes on the album (hint: what word rhymes with “rock” and might be of interest to the Peach?). On record, the tune’s a bit flat because its wooden momentum is a contrast to the more, ah, biological rhythms of the other tunes. Live, she performs this tune as if she were Rita Coolidge crossed with Ozzy—sneering, headbanging, sassy, sweaty. Perhaps it’s an inside joke—a “hard rock” recontextualization invented by a complex woman and her Roland 505.
All artists get their signature tune eventually. Theoretically, this album is brimming with ‘em, but my vote for the Peaches signifier is “Set It Off”, a vulgar engraved invitation to bed with kicking polyrhythms and sonar counterrhythms. The song alternates between her sneering nonchalance and a more urgent chorus (“C’mon let’s set it off”). There’s something infectious and mnemonic about this simple tune, which will continue to ring in your head until it’s time for bed.
And then begins the incessant pounding, the insistent buzz of a tune called “Cum Undun”, which sounds like a 1982 Soft Cell tune that wandered through time, space, and gender into this zany new one-woman orgy. A glorious cacophony of keyboards and beats and buzzing tones thrusts itself repeatedly into your ear, and the lyrics—shouted from way back in the mix—are the sort of thing the Kinsey Report probably glossed over once or twice. You don’t stop, and you don’t stop.
The crackle of an old vinyl LP, the static on the AM dial, the clang of industrial machinery—only Peaches could combine all these things into a genuinely erotic song about ...well the song’s called “Diddle My Skittle” so you figure it out. It’s not about Skittles raining from the heavens on a TV commercial, I’ll tell you that. “There’s only one Peach with the whole in the middle”, she informs us, as pistons pump and static churns. It’s a slow burn, a cessation of foreplay, a self-service rest stop, a skittle with a heart of gold.
I suspect there have been countless pop songs recorded with the theme of “Hot Rod”, but only Peaches takes the phrase literally. The song’s a sequel to “Fuck the Pain Away”—her Roland is set to the same sounds, and she gives us the “huh? wha?” act yet again. But I hate to think of the hipsters stroking their goatees to evocations of “the panty war” and “pussy galore”. “You like it when I like you less / No caress / Just undress”—a stereotypical male fantasy reversed! The lucky possessor of the tune’s “hot rod” probably thought he was some sorta lascivious jerk before this lusty autonomous woman took him over. No porn fantasies here: just a sticky situation and a happy woman shouting “give me your wad”.
A groovy single that preceded the album, “Lovertits” appears almost out of context here. It’s the most New Wave sounding tune here by miles—like the Waitresses submerged in Haysi Fantayzee. It’s also the only song that evokes emotions other than lust. Her commanding voice turns into a petulant whine during the chorus (“Let’s get over this / I’m your lovertits”), while the remaining lyrics hint at things like love and sexual dysfunction (“one day…you’re gonna have to get it up”, “what I need from you”). But wow, that Roland 505 sets up a glorious soundscape, and the whole retro-sound is compelling and unique.
“Suck and Let Go” and “Sucker” are demented twins. “Suck and Let Go” is a six-minute conceptual opus about, well it’s about sucking and letting go, innit? The beat is hyperactive and insistent, while the seductive voice of the Peach is so detailed that you can hear every labial fricative as a hidden second language. Strangely mellow, metronomic, electronic—it’s a worthy successor to “Love to Love You Baby” (that’s Donna Summer ca. 1975 in case you’re lost). “Sucker”, on the other hand begins with a driving one-chord faux guitar riff that gives way to the Peach shouting valiantly over the mix about—well not about sucking (“Not a sucker / I want a fucker”). The song tears the roof off and tears a hole in the stratosphere too—driving, loud, two-chord, near-anthemic tune for the new liberated century.
The closing track is an instrumental entitled “Felix Partz”, which seems to be some sort of tribute, with ejaculating keyboards and a shuffling, bulging bullybag of static. Not a peep from Peaches, though—and despite it, you can just feel her sneering behind her Roland 505, knowing this shit shouldn’t come to an end.
So what is Peaches doing? What are the teaches of Peaches? Her analysis of sexual dynamics falls short of the advanced school of, say, Millie Jackson or Denise LaSalle. Her vulgarity is usually playful and silly, never mean-spirited or gratuitous. She rarely pretends to be seductive or coy, always opting for frank, honest, and demanding. Hers is a world where recreational sex is fun and absorbing, devoid of tedious emotional attachments. It’s as if 20 years of disease, ideology, hang-ups, puritanism, and paranoia have been discarded abruptly to reveal (again) that the essence of gettin’ it on is happy, natural, unhinged. And there’s power in it. As the Peach herself sums it up: “I want to fuck people up the ass with my music”.