Reviews

Rasputina

Peter Joseph
Rasputina

Rasputina

City: Baltimore
Venue: Ottobar
Date: 2004-04-11
For me, seeing Rasputina is like reuniting up with an ex. I adored them during my youth, but time passed and we drifted apart. Yet all it took was one spectacular night to remind me why I loved them in the first place, and to want them in my life again. Unfortunately, they're already wedded to the goths. And in comparison to those faithful, tenacious lovers I don't stand a chance at winning Rasputina back. Goth, like any subculture, can be understood as a resistance to the ideals of a hegemonic mainstream culture. And also like any other adolescent subculture, it has been marked by a surplus of style over substance. Briefly in the '90s it enjoyed its heyday as the most popular mode of pretending to be anti-establishment. Some of us can still recall high schools posting trenchcoat bans. After the post-Columbine fears came and went quietly, and after Marilyn Manson proved he was just your average rock star who wanted to sleep with actresses, goth went back to being creepy-lame rather than creepy-scary. Goths packed up their black lace and leather ephemera and retreated to their parents' basement while the musicians who had been willingly or unwillingly been categorized as goth tightened their corsets for the lean years of obscurity ahead. Such has been the fate of Rasputina. After a moody, inventive major label debut that left them genre limbo, they underwent a goth makeover when Marilyn Manson took over the studio and created a goth remix titled Transylvanian Regurgitations. For a trio of female cellists who sang about tragic fires of yesteryear, vampire courtesans and Howard Hughes, pitching their tent in the goth camp seemed like the thing to do. They released a sophomore album, How We Quit the Forest that followed the style of the remix album much more than their original work. Gone were the somber, sonorous sound of their first album; their cellos disappeared into heavy distortion and echoing electronic drums. Still, underneath the glossy melodrama Rasputina still possessed their dry wit and clever songwriting. But humor and angst don't quite mix and after their bid to cash in on the goth craze failed, their label jettisoned them. Singer and primary songwriter Melora Creager didn't call it quits and instead began producing and recording herself, and the results have been an excellent combination of their original purity and their industrial grit. None of that fine balance disappears in their live performance. With one third of the cello trio replaced by an excellent drummer, Rasputina nimbly leaped through every phase of their repertoire and throwing in a significant number of covers that might be gimmicky if they weren't such stellar reinterpretations of classic songs. Their bricolage fashion sense shares many of the same tastes as goths. Like goths, they dress like confused Victorians, with their corsets strapped on the outside of their dresses, and drummer Jonathan TeBeest resembles an Amish farmer down on his luck. But as they took the stage, it was easy to notice that neither Creager nor Zoe Keating wore a swatch of black, choosing instead mostly white for their corrupted classical ensembles. This pastiche aesthetic drives their set list as well. They can jump from "Howard Hughes", a swirling tour de force from their first record, to the click-clack pop of "Antique High Heel Red Doll Shoes", a number just begging to become a club hit. Their ability to dispense with any hint of irony allows them to submerse themselves in "Rose K.", a touching song about a woman suffering from Alzheimer's that Creager admitted was almost too difficult to perform live. Rasputina's covers make up an important part of their catalog. They've released several EPs dedicated to covers, usually focusing on classic rock hits such as Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" but occasionally veering off into the surprising, elegant "Fox in the Snow", originally by Belle & Sebastian. Creager's voice can jump in from sophisticated and hushed to bawdy and operatic. Whereas she reserves the former usually for her originals, she puts the latter to good use in her bombastic versions of Led Zeppelin's "Rock 'n Roll" and Heart's "Barracuda". These songs proved just how hard two seated women in floorlength dresses can rock, and gave TeBeest, who generally let his playing support the strings, a chance to show off his chops. Creager's between-song banter carries the same mellifluous tone as her lyrics, so much so that it almost seemed scripted. After one heckler called out for more originals, she sweetly informed him that the last song they had played actually was an original, but so good he couldn't tell. I don't blame him for the mistake. Their originals employ a mix of the classic rock and classical references, such as the new track "High on Life" or the classic "Mr. Little Shirtwaist Fire". The band isn't above going for the laugh, however, through the smart use of the sort of syrupy schmaltz that strings usually bring to pop music. A track from their new album "If Your Kisses Can't Hold The Man You Love" could easily have been mistaken as an original, with its chugging, punk rock chorus, but Creager instead admitted that had been written during the 1920s. It only sounded new, she explained, because she doesn't sing the line that goes "I slid down the copper pipe." It's unfortunate for Rasputina that they seem to have reached their true potential only after their brief moment of near stardom had passed. Even worse, they allowed themselves to be fit into an already fading genre. At this point, goth culture has returned to its roots and its meager membership of high school outsiders. Manson appears on Page Six only when he gives someone an engagement ring. They still might enjoy a solid, dedicated fanbase, but bands such as Rasputina can have little hope for crossing over to a larger audience after being tagged as the soundtrack to a shunned subculture. It may be bad for them, but it's an even greater loss to us living closer to the mainstream.

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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