When an artist like Carla Bozulich names an album Quieter, you need to understand that it is, in fact, quieter in relation to much of what she’s done before. All of that touring with the Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista has done a number on her eardrums, sidelining her career for a time as she sought treatment for her tinnitus. Members of her devoted flock already know Bozulich to be well versed in the art of electronic music and sound manipulation, so her past blends of punk and country rock no longer need to be her default musical settings.
Quieter is an album pieced together from hard drive files, through numerous collaborations, and heavily doctored in the post-production stages. The resulting album sounds better than the description would lead you to believe, and it fares even better if you don’t read about its background. Bozulich’s explanations of the tunes are riddled with too many sentence fragments and not enough punctuation for me to tell just what the hell she’s talking about.
Bozulich’s army of musician friends includes cellists Jessica Catron and Francesco Guerri, drummer Andrea Belfi, programmers Jhno and Freddy Ruppert, guitarist Sara Lipstate, and each member of Ceramic Dog (guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Shahzad Ismaily, and drummer Ches Smith). This is a strong batch of friends, and Bozulich wisely lets them do a great deal of the landscaping for Quieter. Though Carla Bozulich wrote lyrics to six of the album’s seven songs and sings them with great affectation, it’s the additional touches from her fellow musicians that give each track a unique boost. For instance, I’m inclined to let Lipstate take the credit for creating the hazy atmosphere than envelopes “Written in Smoke” while “Stained in Grace” wouldn’t have sounded nearly as scary if it weren’t for Jhno’s string contributions.
“Glass House” owes more to Bozulich’s simple yet insistent melody than it does to Ruppert’s programming, but we’re just splitting hairs at this point. Tracks like the ramshackle shuffle-turned sad lounge of “Sha Sha” still have a way of sticking in the listener’s noggin, no matter who gets the lion’s share of the credit. The eight-minute opener “Let It Roll” remains a mystery. Bozulich calls it “the most honest work I [sic] ever done” and “borderline dangerous to share”, but this is just another one of those cases where only the poet knows the meaning of the poem. Combining electronics in a state of rubato with sparse piano, “Let It Roll” creates a thick, impenetrable ambiance as a backdrop for Bozulich’s moderately processed voice. The song’s meaning is lost in the murk, should that make its author breath any easier.
Final track “End of the World” was written entirely by Marc Ribot, providing Quieter with what has to be its most naked moment. With just Ribot’s electric, Bozulich’s voice, and some light reverb, neither musician can hide behind any digital fidgeting this time. The narrator greets a friend who has just returned home from a long journey, ostensibly to the end of the world: “I fed both your cats / And I watered your plant / Cleaned up broken glass while you were gone.” It’s a great end to a curious album that doesn’t try so hard to stick to any ironclad mission statement of purpose. Carla Bozulich, of all people, understands that great things can still happen if you just sit back and let them.