With Boy, Carla Bozulich has created a percussive bit of weirdo-rock, chopped and screwed by the former Geraldine Fibber as she traveled around the globe and with help from a cast of collaborators. It has the herky-jerky rhythms of a life in punctuated movement, stop-start patterns driven by exploded drums and Bozulich’s wisps and snarls. Most importantly it sounds like nothing other than Bozulich’s own twisty back catalog, her career spent distorting punk rock and country and the blues into exciting new shapes.
Here, she has distilled that urge down to its absolutes, wide-open spaces populating most tracks, interrupted by rolling drum fills and sparse guitar and synthesizer bloops. “Danceland” includes a minor chorus of background vocals and Bozulich’s growls and eventually grooves into an approximation of ’70s glam rock, but heard on the other end of a very, very faulty microphone. There is nothing comforting in these sounds: Bozulich sounds like she’s performing country ballad “What Is It Baby?” to an abandoned movie theater full of skeletons. Other songs rattle and hiss with junk percussion and sound loops.
But more important than any other instrument is Bozulich’s voice, a powerful, dexterous thing she contorts to all manner of purposes. It provides all of the melody during “Don’t Follow Me” and inserts percussive smacks into the razorwire blues of “Ain’t No Grave”. It oozes menace and empathy simultaneously, somehow most beautiful when it announces “I want to fuck up the whole world” on “Deeper Than the Well”. And it utterly controls Boy, serving as guitar, bass and drums even when one or all of those instruments are present.
Over the course of her long career, Bozulich has carved out a hermetic niche all her own in the music industry. In the liner notes she points out that the album was “written recorded and mixed everywhere from … Dharamshala to NYC to Joshua Tree to Zagreb, etc,” noting that she has “moved 25, 50 or more times in each year since 2006″. A person on this path could not possibly fall under the sway of media trends, and her music clearly demonstrates this. Its most simple and melodic moment comes with the near-instrumental “Number X”, with vocals arriving only at the very end, where, seated amidst quietly whirring loops and cymbal washes, Bozulich announces “Wouldn’t it be fine if at checkout time / I was doin’ what I’m doin’ right now?” This is a comfort that never approaches stagnancy, and it shows in the music, which is scary, touching and abrasive all at once. Quite an accomplishment for her “pop album”.