“We don’t care what the neighbors say, we just wear our funny clothes, play our little cellos, and hoot and holler deep into the night. When the name calling starts, we’re right there, for we love the throw down of a good backbiting.”
Whether we’re aware of it or not, there’s a time-honored taboo against the galvanizing of stringed instruments. If you consider the span of centuries that the traditional guitar sound had been founded on, you can fathom the opposition Bob Dylan met when he “went electric.” There are always purists amongst us who would feel betrayed if their sonic pacifiers were bastardized or in any way altered.
But as history has taught us, a sound that might be considered grating on first listen could be tolerable, and even pleasurable, if one was willing to accept its innovation. And that’s why electric cellos were invented.
Now, before you relegate them to the territory of some ill-conceived form of “hard” classical, consider the dark, gritty drive they lend to the songs of Rasputina. About half of their newest album, Frustration Plantation, is made up of catchy rock medleys that make not-so-classical use of classical instruments (and cellos predominantly).
Most of the time, the results are like the toe-tapping “High On Life,” though “Possum Of The Grotto” and “Momma Was An Opium-Smoker” tend to get on one’s nerves more than they satisfy. Even then, there’s a cheeky humor in “Momma” that’s branded into most of Rasputina’s work.
The single spoken word piece on Frustration, “My Captivity By Savages,” is the epitome of that wit. With a soundtrack provided by (surprise surprise) sweeping cellos, a Southern-Belle recants her tale about tussles with savage Indians that lead to the murder of her family and a 14-year stint as an enslaved but rebellious handmaiden. In a sick way, it’s quite amusing. How can you not crack a smile at a chapter entitled “A Fine Day For A Flaying, or, The Brutal Massacre Of All I Held Dear.”
Somehow it’s expected from a band that salts its performances with head-cellist Melora Creager’s insightful remarks: “Scientists are finding out more and more about how our universe was born. It turns out that it was actually adopted, and a volcano is that abandoned, inner child lashing out. It makes us want to just give the universe a big hug.”
But Rasputina does have a serious side as well, which has a habit of arresting you mid-guffaw as you realize how haunting Creager’s sultry voice can be. On dirges like “Oh Injury” or the slightly sinister “The Mayor” she idles in a moving realm of pain along with the mournful instruments singing with her. These songs have a habit of sounding ancient, of being somehow transported through time by the melancholy voices of ghosts, and will echo in your head long into the night.
Despite its few misses, Frustration is an enrapturing record for present fans of Rasputina, and a good introduction to their oeuvre for those unfamiliar with their unique sound.
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