TThe Twigs are completely unoriginal. Every hook on this English/Norwegian quartet’s second length LP, Epicure, every lyric, every distortion drenched moment, is lifted from one of the following acts:
- Sonic Youth
- The Pixies
- My Bloody Valentine
- The Smashing Pumpkins
- The Breeders/Veruca Salt
The grand narrative here is, of course, pop rock reconceived through the lens of a hypnotic swirl of distorted guitars and lazy, restrained vocals.
The Twigs, however, are wonderful. Any act following in the footsteps of such groundbreaking artists like Sonic Youth or the Pixies can only hope to beat the visionaries at their own game. On Epicure, the Twigs have beautifully crafted and molded these influences, creating an idiosyncratic brand of noisy indie-rock, swerving between the extremes of formless distorted chaos and cheeky, endearing pop. Their originality lies in their strange and wholly individual amalgamation.
“Thalassa Bogey” shows them at their white-noise best. A clean guitar slowly strums as the song begins, slowly transforming into an explosion of distortion. The real thrill of the Twigs is their ability to go from one extreme to the other within just one song. After this explosion, everything cuts out, leaving a sparse drumbeat and Katy Penny’s beautifully gentle, heavily effected voice. Penny works in wonderful opposition to the oppressive wall of the Twigs’s music. On “Thalassa Bogey” her vocals are cool and relaxed during the verses, yet able to take on the sneer and attitude of the song’s soaring chorus of pure noise as she yearningly sings for the need “To reach out / and touch . . . life.” The accompanying blitz of noise is the answer to, and fulfillment of, her desire.
A monumental drum roll pushes the song to its breaking point as the guitarists Tor Erik and Eirik do their best Sonic Youth impression, shredding their instruments in a flurry of distortion and feedback. Perhaps the Twigs greatest achievement is their ability to keep such wailing chaos and energy so well contained-there are no 17-minute distortion epics on here (a la the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”). All the noise is well-situated in a four to five minute long pop songs, which is harder to do than just destroy your guitar for a half hour and record it.
“Galleon Song” works on a similar dynamic as Penny is gentle and tender in the verse, accompanied by clean guitars and a low, tumbling drum beat. After two minutes, the mellowness breaks down as the instruments fade out and Penny gently croons for a lost love, singing “Laughing with you / Laughing with you.” A moment of silence intervenes before the Smashing Pumpkins guitar onslaught takes over. The usual noise rock cascade of distorted guitar octaves gradually morphs in to the syncopated tribal explosion, recalling the rhythmic daring and experimentation of Led Zeppelin or Tool more than the strait-forward romps of Sonic Youth or the Pixies.
These rather dark guitar orgies, however, only tell half the story of Epicure. Cheeky punk pop resounds all over the disc, ranging from the driving opener “Divulge” through the keyboard push of “Trouble Me Too”. It is on these tunes that the influence of Veruca Salt and the Breeders shows its face. Penny’s vocals are sneering yet cute, riding over a wall of simple punk chords on the strength of hummable pop melodies. “Trouble Me Too” particularly stands out in this regard. The track opens up with a light, poppy drum kick and Penny’s vocals, delicate and mildly affected. The song screeches to a halt before slamming back in a with a wall of fuzzy guitars and pounding keyboards as Penny sings with deadpan frankness such pure pop kitsch as “You definitely trouble me now / But I will trouble you.” What makes the Twigs interesting in regard to either Veruca Salt or the Breeders, however, is their willingness to overlay cute punk pop with real driving, screeching, mind-numbingly loud guitars. The relative tameness of Veruca Salt allowed them crossover mainstream success-the Sonic Youth racket of the Twigs’s female punk pop, however, is sure to scare off your average listener.
That might be fine for the Twigs. Their project does not seem to aim at global domination. Their music is too challenging and idiosyncratic for that. Epicure is an album that switches gears quickly and often (the proverbial whisper to a scream). More than that, the Twigs constantly blur the line between heavy guitar noise music and pure pop. This will be sure to leave them looking too tame for noise freaks yet too heavy for those just looking to sing along with a cute pop melody. That is what is so fascinating about the Twigs-their commercial ambiguity. They have almost willfully removed themselves from any clear-cut category or genre. Epicure bristles with the intensity and excitement of a band throwing it all out there, take it or leave it, letting us deal with piecing together the remains of their dismantling of both pop and noise.