[18 October 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Although Athens, Georgia’s Jucifer has been putting the rock duet gimmick to good use longer than Jack and Meg have, and have been combining beastly Melvins-style guitars and sumptuous melodic vocals long before Boris became cool, singer/guitarist Amber Valentine and drummer Edgar Livengood have been plying their trade in relative obscurity, wowing audiences with Livengood’s frantic, flailing performances and Valentine’s astonishing stack of amplifiers, while only generating a minimum of attention from both the punters and the press. The fact that it’s taken the band more than a decade to put out three full-length albums, and that their new disc has been released by an extreme metal label, certainly makes it all the more difficult to sway the fickle indie rock nerds out there, but if Valentine and Livengood have to win over fans one blown-out eardrum at a time, they’re more than capable of doing so.
Normally the home of some of America’s finest death metal and grindcore acts, Relapse Records has taken a bit of a gamble with Jucifer (indie kids might think the label’s reputation is too extreme, metal kids might think Jucifer isn’t metal enough), but the band has certainly held up its part of the bargain, putting together an album that, while not without the odd stumble, shows us all why Jucifer is often so darn cool.
It’s all about Amber. Without Amber, Jucifer is useless. Looking like a cast member of Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! gone metal, Valentine hammers away wicked, tinnitus-inducing chords from her mega-amped Flying V while batting her garish false eyelashes, luring us with her girlish, cooing vocals, which offer a brilliant, enticing contrast with the massive roar of guitars and explosions of drums. Like the great, immortal Tura Satana, Valentine wins us over with her undeniable sexuality, and then proceeds to snap our necks, just because she can. And when Jucifer is at its very best, we can never get enough of it.
With a whopping 15 tracks and a rather tiring running time of nearly an hour, If Thine Enemy Hunger would have benefited greatly if 15 minutes had been snipped off, but for its heavy indulgence in plodding distortion, it’s hard to dislike. Jucifer doesn’t help the album’s cause by opening with 13 minutes of monstrous doom metal, and it’s the same schitck they’ve been doing for ages now, yet “She Tides the Deep” and “Centralia” are hypnotic in their stoner methodicalness, the former unleashing a melodic yet punishing riff that King Buzzo would be proud of, the latter delving deeper into darker territory, as if decending from one ring of hell to another.
Thankfully, the album has a lot more to offer than the same old chords, quickly gaining momentum around the midway point. “Lucky Ones Burn” is an unabashed White Stripes garage rocker, Valentine’s compressed vocals managing to display more nuance than on the first two tracks, while the cutely-titled “Hennin Hardine” (and no, the song isn’t about tennis) hearkens back to the early-90s shoegazer/dreampop-inspired indie rock of Velocity Girl and Throwing Muses, the lively (dare I say, lilting) verses giving way the kind of vicious chorus that Valentine excels at. “My Benefactor” and “Medicated” offer respite from the noise, Valentine’s voice teetering between soothing and creepy, and conversely, “Luchamos” features a serpentine guitar lead underneath Valentine’s seductive Spanish lyrics, and “Pontius of Palia” delivers the kind of female-fronted rawk that Veruca Salt attempted and only sporadically pulled off. The Civil War-inspired sludge of “Antietam” is the strongest song on the disc, Livengood laying down a terrific groove on drums, a sinister-sounding banjo plunking away an eerie melody during the verses underneath Valentine’s hushed vocals from the point of view of an overwhelmed teenaged nurse, the song exploding during the choruses, Valentine letting out horrifying screams of, “Make it stop… I’m only 17!”
Despite its tendency to revert to predictability (“In a Family Way” and “Led” bring the album to a rather bland conclusion), Valentine holds everything together with her deceptively muscular guitar work, and especially her charisma, which translates well on record. It’s enough to make us visualize a monochrome Valentine careening across the alkali flats in a hot rod, laying waste to any unfortunate sap who gets in her way.