With the help of her new band Evangelista, sonic nomad Carla Bozulich releases a diverse album that ranks among her best. Fire and brimstone has rarely sounded this good!
If there was ever an album that I’d recommend listening to in reverse order, it would be this one. "Hello, Voyager", the 12-minute title track that closes Evangelista’s debut album, is the band’s longest and best song. It ties up the previous songs’ musical and thematic strands so neatly that its exclusion would reduce the album to a glorified mix CD.
It begins with front woman Carla Bozulich shouting visions of "rubble and blood," exhorting us to realize that "we are all the same," that we’re all guilty of "things I don’t think normal people do." Like any good evangelist, though, Bozulich knows to follow her words of condemnation with words of salvation. "When all hope is gone," she concludes, "there’s only one thing left --- love!" As her tremulous testimony intensifies, her backing musicians play the role of congregation: they shout key words back at her, and punctuate them with arrhythmic thwacks and staccato chords. By the time the band finally harnesses its improvised clatter, I feel like I’m truly at church -- one in which Romanticism has replaced Christianity, the saints have morphed into savages, and Carla is their anointed prophet. Still, I’ve already read reviews that unjustly dismiss the song as self-indulgent nonsense. Needless to say, I disagree!
Hello, Voyager is musically scattershot, hopping from grating grunge ("Truth Is Dark Like Outer Space", the ironically named "Smooth Jazz") to wistful ballads ("The Blue Room", "Paper Kitten Claw") and orchestral pieces (the sublime "For the Li’l Dudes"). Then, there’s the inexplicable track "The Frozen Dress". Bozulich's detuned guitars and disembodied voices make that song sound like Sonic Youth’s "Lee Is Free" reinterpreted by a satanic choir. Although each song works, thanks in no small part to Bozulich’s supporting musicians (many of whom play in Thee Silver Mt. Zion --- no strangers themselves to gorgeous gloom), only the title track fuses all of her ideas into a cohesive whole.
Even Bozulich’s list of "things I don’t think normal people do" can be traced back to the protagonists of the album’s previous songs. When she shouts, "This is me with a blade in my hand," I think of the 13-year-old girl on "Lucky Lucky Luck" who cuts herself. When she wails, "This is me loving someone I’m not supposed to love," I think of the woman on "The Blue Room" who holds on too tightly to the memories of her dead lover. When she sneers, "This is me selling you out when you needed me most," I think of the moment on "Truth Is Dark Like Outer Space" when she sings, "The truth is they lied, so we shut ‘em off like a light."
It’s oddly fitting that Hello, Voyager’s final track is its best entry point. The album itself serves as a great entry point for Bozulich’s sprawling back catalog. Over the last 15 years, she has dabbled in everything from industrial music (Ethyl Meatplow) to noisy rock (the Geraldine Fibbers) to straightforward country (she once covered a Willie Nelson album in its entirety). None of these projects moved me enough on first listen to warrant giving them a second. Hello, Voyager, however, has changed that: its diversity, boldness and overall quality has compelled me to delve into her past work with fresh, enthusiastic ears. I’ll gladly follow her on her next voyage. Let the church say amen!