Kidnapped By Neptune
The taxonomists of the indie rock world are hopelessly short-sighted, treating each new big thing as if it is an ancient institution in which the next big thing can be ensconced. Like, saying something reminds one of the Kills with a touch of the Faint is a hopelessly useless description in any time frame but the most immediate, and for anyone who fails to have acquired every new marketing product to be fostered. I'm not saying I'm guiltless in this crime - my particular common misdemeanor is to instead compare a thing to something more obscure than itself in order to make me seem "worldly" - but I wish to avoid this slippery slope in this review of one of my favorite artists to sprout out of the last five years: Scout Niblett.
Niblett is a wild flower of womanhood sprouting originally from Nottingham and now making her home turf in the wilds of Oakland. Known, where she is known, for being an evocative performer who alternates banging on drums and playing guitar and wearing a feral blonde wig, she often gets lumped in to the apparent phylum of "sounding like Cat Power" but really this is a weak descriptor. Whereas the c-word trades heavily on her fragility, Scout swaggers out from your speakers and makes you feel her muscles. Her haunting Appalachian croon often works itself in a scream without a moments notice, supplanted by the most skeletal of instrumentation, but enough to make this not an empty airy affair, but one of striking angularity and singularity. I love it.
Her latest Kidnapped By Neptune, named for the astrological condition under whose influence Niblett proclaims to have been for a number of years now, follows the path she started clearing on 2003's stellar thesis statement I Am and even more directly tries to get at the root of the herself. It opens with the seemingly plaintive jog through the planets "Hot to Death" stating
It starts with the sound of lonely girl
Rockin, rockin it , rockin in her own world
Shakin', shakin' it, shakin' her heart down
before erupting into a machine gun of drums and fuzz reiterating the theme. This is the real "quite-loud dynamic" that is sought by many a lesser artist. The title track is an undeniably funky punk/new wave/disco/marching band chant of "Where have you been, you crazy girl" that I wish would go on for like 10 minutes.
The lope of "Pom Poms" explains another idiosyncrasy of Ms. Niblett's work, her tendency to include cheers in her work:
Does anyone know a cute girl with some pom-poms
Because everyone needs someone to spell out their name
In a little song
In "Lullaby for Scout in 10 Years" she implores her future self if she's found those things she is searching for, ending each line of questions with the telling "Honey, if you are still around." On this song, it appears she has been hitting some old grunge CD's to extract the fuzz guitar groove element that was the real contribution of that era. For the clever "Fuck Treasure Island," one of the better song titles I've heard in a while, she is backed up only by her double tracked voice and a drum kit. The thing is, Scout has the voice and personal force to make this work, and sound like a full song. "Relax" sounding in tune and word like the answer to the questions Nirvana's "Come As You Are" never really posed, compelling as it forebearer.
She gets her shout on best in the frenetic "Valvoline" and her chant going in the hand clap filled "Safety Pants", but its the hazy rockers like "Good To Me" and especially "Handsome" that really shine on this record. Like it seems with every great record lately, Steve Albini once again opts to capture every crackle and breath, letting the drums exhibit their own power rather than turning them into giant pneumatic fart machines, and making this a raw nerve masterpiece.
It matches her lyrical style, which is neither oblique quasi-poetry or sad diary pages but honest short existential queries into the self. One story about her is that, in her bathroom, she has instead of a mirror, a taped up sign that reads "I Am Emma" (her real first name) and I believe it, because no one I know of nowadays comes as close to opening their soul up like Scout Niblett. She is a force to be reckoned with, and in that reckoning you might find a little true part of yourself you were missing out on.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com