For the last few years, Visqueen has been one of Seattle’s best-kept secrets, through no fault of its own. Seattle loves its hometown superstars, from the Sonics and Hendrix all the way up to Fleet Foxes and the sadly now defunct These Arms Are Snakes. A little over five years ago, a friend tipped me off to an amazing record called Sunset on Dateland, and from then on, I was hooked on Visqueen. As fate is cruel, the band wouldn’t release another album for the next five years. It was like getting a taste of a Red Velvet from Cupcake Royale and then being told they weren’t making it anymore. Dag! So, it was a vast relief to find that the band was making a comeback of sorts, a new album on frontwoman Rachel Flotard’s new label.
Visqueen’s latest album, A Message to Garcia, their third in total, is a collection of rocking harmonic energy. Dedicated to her late father, whose Steamfitters union became Flotard’s label name, the album is a welcome comeback for a band that seemingly disappeared before its time. Arguably, Flotard gained even more fame in her time away from the band, becoming a guitarist and backup singer for another ginger northwesterner, Neko Case. While the two comely redheads had voices that seemingly intertwined as if fate had brought them together, Flotard had more vocal and musical muscles to flex, and on A Message to Garcia, man, do they flex!
Opener “Hand Me Down” will have the boys swooning as the band combines dirty churning riffs with ebullient horns, harmonized vocals and lyrics such as “Come and get your love.” Give me a minute, I feel faint. Nearly every song on the album is as catchy and brilliant as that opener. Flotard’s voice shines on “Fight for Love,” a song that is at first seemingly simple, but then complicated by its shining organ lines, its thrashing guitars and pure classic rock vocals (think Heart). My favorite track on the album is probably “Beautiful Amnesia.” Rachel’s voice is given a moment to soar in the opening a cappella segment, then followed by her intense guitar work, and the melancholy sound of the pedal steel undercutting all of that intensity.
Rachel Flotard is that perfect combination. Gorgeous as all get out, tough as nails, poetic yet punishing. She can write lines such as “Spreading our ribs for the truth / Two new surgeons in town / Tailoring hearts / Built to suit.”, showcasing her lyrical complexity while she rocks your socks off, and then equally break your heart one line at a time with a song such as “So Long,” its title taking on more than one meaning. I don’t know how long it took for Flotard to record this song without breaking down, but I could barely listen to it without tearing up. Brilliantly, she follows this up with one of the most celebratory and rollicking songs on the album in “Ward.” Sigh. I know as a critic, I’m supposed to be objective, but I just can’t help loving Rachel Flotard.
Veruca Salt – American Thighs
Heart – Dreamboat Annie
Throwing Muses – Throwing Muses