PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Freakwater: Scheherazade

Photo: Tim Furnish

Eleven years after their last record, Freakwater proves they've still got it, and then some.



Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2016-02-05
UK Release Date: 2016-02-05

Scheherazade is Freakwater’s first album in 11 years, and first with Bloodshot Records, a departure from their longstanding relationship with Thrill Jockey. Bloodshot is in line with Freakwater stylistically in a way that Thrill Jockey never quite has been, and that cohesive musical aesthetic really shows on Scheherazade. Freakwater sounds, more than ever, exactly like themselves. The elements for which they are known are positioned at the forefront and emphasized like a gut punch.

The group's most recent record, 2005’s Thinking of You… sticks to a pretty traditional country sound. It’s a joy to hear the versatility of the band on Scheherazade, to see them take more straight-ahead country songs like “Bolshevik and Bollweevil” and stretch them out with big, crashing vocal harmonies. To hear a track like that directly next to some of the darkest and weirdest material to come out of Freakwater, and to have that change make perfect sense, speaks to the experience and precision with which core members Janet Bean, Catherine Irwin, and Dave Gay have honed their vision.

“Down Will Come Baby” and “Falls of Sleep” play to the dark alt-country currently being cultivated by groups like Delta Rae and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, but there is a depth of history there that’s not easy for modern players to access or emulate. Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin have always been lauded for their vocal harmonies and it’s easy to see why: there’s no Mumford and Sons purity here. These women aren’t afraid of an ugly blue note, aren’t afraid to get a dirty, awful sound out of a swampy track. The rejection of polished arrangements on this record is so finessed, it’s masterful in and of itself. Freakwater first distinguished themselves in the mid 1980s with a basement recording on a cassette tape, and that punk rock DIY spirit is laced through Scheherazade, three decades and an untold amount of studio time later.

The record’s namesake is of course the legendary queen and storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, who keeps herself alive by telling her murderous husband a new, compelling story every night to convince him to spare her life until the next day. The songs on Scheherazade are reaching towards the same goal: they’re compelling narratives, small moments, and reflections meant to hook the listener, to keep the album playing for one more song. Americana and country music are built around stories more than composition, and while the arrangements here are stellar, they’re nothing without a narrative voice.

Overall Scheherazade is a masterful step forward for Freakwater with an eye on its influences and history. Its songs grapple with duality, with a balance between muddy, dirty roots music and clear, split open beauty, and the album balances itself so well in that regard. The triumvirate at the center of Freakwater is stronger and surer than ever, which is an incredible achievement any time let alone after a major label change. There’s never been any telling where Freakwater will go next, or even if they’ll continue to work together, but it’s heartening to see such a strong effort after such a lengthy hiatus. Fingers crossed their next work will be as thought-provoking and cohesive, and that the wait will be a few years shorter.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.