Space Ballerinas: If Goth Was Pink

[3 September 2001]

By Dave Heaton

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

"Once upon a time there was a little ballerina who was wandering through a forest of black lines, looking for something to absorb her. Then suddenly in the distance she saw the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen, glistening far far away". So begins the spoken story that opens If Goth Was Pink, the debut album from a mind-boggling group called Space Ballerinas. Those opening lines sound like they begin a fairy tale, and in a way they do. Yet this tale ends up being essentially a joke. The most beautiful thing the ballerina has ever seen is a sliding glass door. The ballerina falls in love with the sliding glass door and then crashes into it. Then the song ends.

The musical texture of that opening story-song, “Ballerina Fell…”, is supplied by keyboards and a powerful voice that is both angelic and eerie. Both that instrument and that voice are courtesy of Anna Oxygen, one of the group’s three members. Musically, her voice is the most unique thing about the group. It has a weight to it that puts it right in the center of each song, even when it’s really in the background, as on the start of that opening track. Yet the same factor that makes it stand out also gives the group’s sound an odd unbalance. When the music is sparse (keyboards, bass, drums), such a unique voice stands out so much that at times it seems cartoonish or awkwardly showy.

Putting on a show, however, might just be what Space Ballerinas are mostly about. The group, from Olympia Washington, has made its name through live performances that integrate aspects of “performance art” with music, using slides to illustrate its stories. Seeing a multimedia presentation of a goofy story about a ballerina swallowing her eyeballs is one thing, listening to a version of it at home is another. This isn’t to say that the group necessarily imagines itself to be more a live band than a studio band; I’d guess by the release of this CD that they don’t. Still, what seems fun in a nightclub can seem rather silly when you’re listening to it at home, and If Goth Was Pink is proof of that.

At times it seems like Space Ballerinas are going for a rock-opera feel, but prefer to tell short, fanciful stories than long, intricate ones. As with any fusion of narrative and music, the best Space Ballerinas songs are those where the stories themselves strike some kind of chord. “Three Strings”, for example, keeps the group’s musical personality intact while telling a story that connects more closely with real-life issues, those of a ballerina kicked out of her class for being too chubby. Musically, that track falls into a punkish dance groove that helps propel the story along. “Castle” and “Johnny Spaceship” also work better than the others because they bring the music and the narrative together in a way that feels more cohesive—in both cases, the group creates a dreamy atmosphere that suits the song well.

Listener reaction to If Goth Was Pink might depend heavily on who those listeners are. If your sense of humor jibes more closely with that of Space Ballerinas (as I’m guessing most of their stories are at least partially meant to be funny) than mine does or if you have a greater tolerance for the extremely dramatic (if you’re a big fan of current musical theatre), you might like them more than I do. From me, the strongest reaction Space Ballerinas can draw is a firm “Huh?”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/spaceballerinas-ifgoth/