Review Summary: Dislocation and needles in the eye, but still able to crack a smile
Where do I start? Maybe with the cello. For some reason, the solo cello had a slight resurgence in the 90's - alternative / grunge acts looked to it for some real gravitas. The Geraldine Fibbers, so out of step, plumped for the viola and violin. Too country for post grunge, too straight alternative for alt country. By mid 90's country standards, probably too country for country.
So your opener is an alt rock masterpiece, with a simmering gypsy intro. The following wall of guitar is like a cane fire. Lead singer Carla Bozulich confesses in the quiet spots, then shouts and snarls her way through the defiant breakdown.
Bozulich has a storied past. Part of the LA punk scene at age 15, she moved on to the dance glam industrial of Ethyl Meatplow, and ended up fronting the Fibbers - a country punk alternative oddity in 1995. During that time she got clean, and the record touches on that in the horrific but jaunty A Song About Walls - a matter of fact discussion of an abusive relationship, and the horrors which someone will endure to get another fix. It's dark, and cheerful at the same time, and I think it explains why I like the Fibber's cover of Bobbie Gentry's Fancy best of all (available on the scrappy but worthwhile compilation What Part of "Get Thee Gone" Don't You Understand?).
The Fibbers made one more record after this, this time with Nels Cline on guitar, and then Bozulich went her own way to make challenging art music. I'll admit it, I hope they reform one day. The sound this band generates is bold, none more so on opener Lilybelle where the drums anchor the massive cinder-cloud of guitar. Jessy Greene's string contribution is a signature secret weapon.
This album has that meatiness of 90's rock, but keeps an oddball identity, interesting in a work that blankly explores the dehumanising and disorientating side of fringe life in the city in an unpretentious (although frequently surreal) way. The songwriting is familiar, but the songs don't rely only on the loud soft loud distortion matrix - often rather slipping into distinct musical passages. See the Small Song - three and a half minutes that ranges from wiry punk, to a delicate spare interlude, to absolute fury, and then a sort of mini chamber pop segue, and then back to that rage squared.
As bleak as this record is, there's some humour and fun - being on the outs does have its moments. There's woozy, drugged out singalongs. There's even a country song you can bust out during a road trip. There's some traditional sackcloth and ashes storytelling. And there's the monumental Dragon Lady that will take you on a cannonball run. Bozulich has a great voice - clear and powerful when belting, raspy and vitriolic when punkin', and expressive when she's getting to the heart of things.
Nearer the tail, Dusted and Richard don't quite shine as brightly, more straight genre workouts (although still enjoyable), but then there's more of that back-draft guitar at the journey's end.
Although the awful cover doesn't promise much, it's thematically on point. I get the feeling that the fraught, less traveled path took Carla down many rabbit holes that could have been dead ends. She probably woke up many times, unsure of her surroundings, and where she was floating. It's a cautionary tale, and despite me not loving her later work as much (although respecting it) - I'm glad she's able to make it.