[23 July 2009]
Never send a man to do a woman’s job, especially if that job is playing some brilliant rock ’n’ roll. From Beth Ditto to Janis Joplin to Patti Smith, the stereotypical four-guys-with-guitars image of rock has always had its challengers. Girl in a Coma, a Texas-based trio composed of three dynamic women, knows how to ably balance a love of rock’s history with an eye towards its future.
Not that Trio B.C. falls to any of the stereotypes about girls with guitars. It’s more that it transcends the boundaries we set up, the strict code of Lilith Fair vs. heavy metal. And with the Gossip releasing an album called Music for Men, with Katy Perry and Lady Gaga topping the charts, the world just might be ready for (and in dire need of) Girl in a Coma. Showcasing a grasp on rock history that stretches back to the glory days of ’77, these talented musicians really show off its skills on this sophomore release.
Produced by Joan Jett, who joins the band on the snarling “Joanie in the City”, Trio B.C. is an impressive mix of multiple genres. One moment, it’s the flamboyant rockabilly of opener “B.B”. The next, it’s the old-school waltz of “Vino” or the ‘60s Latino twang of “Vin Cerca”. Then there’s the ‘90s alternative sound of “Static Mind”, which is equally indebted to Bikini Kill and Nirvana. In other bands, that could come off as unfocused or uncertain. But for Girl in a Coma, it just seems ambitious—and natural. No genre seems out of the band’s range, but Trio B.C. always coalesces around the trio at its heart, with frontwoman Nina Diaz leading the pack. Diaz’s sister Phanie and childhood friend Jenn Alva round out the rhythm section.
And as strong as the drums and bass are, neither compares to Nina’s striking voice, the band’s secret weapon. Gifted with a set of pipes as strong as Jett and as savage as PJ Harvey (particularly on the grungy “Pleasure and Pain”), Diaz could take even the most mediocre lyrics and make them sound like a threat. On “Vino”, she’s a force of nature, and on “Slaughter Lane”, she’s a punk prophet, constantly poised between aggression and tenderness. It makes for a striking complement to the band’s Ramones-inspired riffs.
But despite the Smithsian title, Girl in a Coma isn’t likely to be found at the altar of Oscar Wilde, gladioli in hand. It is here for the beat, and its take on pop-punk shines through during the album’s most aggressive moments. When things slow down, like on the overly emotive “El Monte”, the band falls far short of its promise. Far better is the Phil Spector-vibe on “Pink Lemonade”, with backup vocals that nearly give singer Diaz some competition.
Even if punk rock produced X-Ray Spex and the Slits, it’s often assumed to be something of a boy’s club. Maybe that’s why Girl in a Coma is smart enough to steer clear of straightforward punk—or straightforward anything, for that matter. By combining a Latin heritage (thanks to the grandfather whose ‘50s Tejano band gave the album its title) with a genuine love of new-wave, garage rock and pop, Girl in a Coma manages to avoid the pigeonholing that inevitably comes with being young, female and brilliant. In short, by not trying to please anyone, the band manages to please everyone.