Review Summary: So Long, Scarecrow takes a single listen before it leaves its footprints in you, an enthralling, beaten beauty that is utterly unforgettable.
It would be lazy to dismiss Scarling. as a rehash of singer Jessicka Addams's former band Jack Off Jill, a usually dull goth-punk outfit that reeked of Marilyn Manson and was Riot Grrrl only in its largely female membership. But unlike Jack Off Jill, Scarling. is not
the sound of retail fishnet stockings and Hot Topic lipstick, and thank god. The band got off to a decent start with Sweet Heart Dealer
, a short album strong with ideas but meandering without a resolute identity. But all that So Long, Scarecrow
takes is a single listen before it leaves its footprints in you, an enthralling, beaten beauty that is utterly unforgettable.
Whereas Sweet Heart Dealer
tested a loose variety of genre possibilities----from bubble-gum deathrock to spacey guitar meddling----without ever quite feeling at home, 2005's So Long, Scarecrow
has unified post-punk's many branches into a challenging, romantic whole. Listen carefully enough, and all your occasional favorite bands bleed through: sinister Joy Division, the knife-wielding fun and freedom of Bikini Kill, the urgency of Sonic Youth, the Cure's gothic candlelit despair, and, most importantly, the layered and ethereal textures of My Bloody Valentine. Not one important stylistic forefather goes unrecognized, and yet the album spawned never once feels tired or derivative. What Scarling. does so successfully is tap into the high-points of the past to pave the way for the genre's future. Listening to So Long, Scarecrow
, you hear a band that has so mastered and personalized its influences that it is a real wonder none of its members came from any of the aforementioned bands (and while they are also just as humorless, there's something graceful about Scarling.'s morbid solemnity).
"Hello London" is as stunning an opener as any, a patient yet rousing farewell to their spotty musical pasts. Here, Scarling.'s newfound confidence is brandished with the dynamics of a band with personality to spare. Jessicka's relaxed tone sheds the screaming and is simply lovely, un-self-consciously tough, feminine without having to prove it with sugary antics and abrasive lyrics. Imperative to the group's sound is Christian Hejnal dense guitar power. A real magician with his instrument, Hejnal is comfortable playing both crushing metal chords and effects-driven ambience. At times the monochromatic sound is effective, at times not. Now that he has proclaimed his love of grand, gritty texture, he would be wise to explore the depths of timbre potential therein.
Still, Hejnal keeps the record cohesive. Throughout these thirteen songs, violence collides with the erotic. "(Northbound On) Cahuenga" is one of the high points, a moody, doom-obsessed slow-burner so evocative of its title location----a haunted Hollywood freeway----that you are instantly transported to the side of this dark, dangerous road, a helpless onlooker. Scarling. sing about Los Angeles in the same way that David Lynch films it: threatening, maze-like, simultaneously abusive and absorbing in its artificiality, the city's underbelly unconcealed, run amok like the ooze from a blister. By the end, all that Jessicka can do is moan as the madness of her lyrics' characters blooms into violence.
Faster, catchier songs like "City Noise", "Broken Record", and "We Are The Musicmakers" lend a modern energy to the album, their hooks immediate and inviting. "Stapled to the Mattress", another of their most addictive, exemplifies how the band works best when its elements are cohesive: Jessicka's heartfelt and atmospheric croon, the thick and textured distortion, the post-punk rhythm section. But they can only maintain the urgency for so long, and at 52 minutes, the album feels a little stretched. "In the Pretend World" and "Caribou and Cake" are pretty repetitive. Totally flat, surprisingly skippable, they should have been trimmed to favor hooks over competency and to bring the listener towards the album's quiet, reflective conclusion, the nighttime title-track, at a brisker pace.
That aside, my review remains as glowing as ever, and I must admit that I have been a drooling idiot for this album for years (this must be obvious, by now, careful readers). Not without reason, I hope. While other bands strive to imitate the vitality of their 80s ancestors, it is just that: imitation, a commemoration of post-punk production values entirely devoid of the riskiness of their predecessors' innovations. Sexual energy is key; a sexless band of this genre turns out like Beach House, while those who overcompensate end up more like Interpol----that is, gross, off-putting, and unrelatable. But Scarling have found the right balance, and So Long, Scarecrow
is such a resounding success that I can only hope their next effort, which will hopefully bring a greater sense of experimentation in the wake of their newfound confidence, packs this much of a punch.