Foggy Notion: Boy by Carla Bozulich
â€œâ€¦sometimes itâ€™s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.â€-Edward Albee, from The Zoo Story
Bozulich makes no bones about her nomadic physical and creative life. In detailed liner notes for her new solo recording, Boy, she states: â€œI have moved 25, 50 or more times each year since 2006. I just go anywhere someone brings me to play and often stay there or nearby for days or even a couple of months if itâ€™s easy to find a situation that works with the cash or the cats on hand.â€
Compromising, conventional and traditional are not some of the adjectives that would be employed when describing Bozulichâ€™s art. While in her teens, she emerged out of a modest LA post-punk industrial movement, making her mark from the early, confrontational ferocity of Ethyl Meatplow to her evolving exploration of deconstructionist, experimentalist and improvisatory musical paths (leading groups/outfits such as The Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista), while rooted in punk and No Wave sensibilities. A prolific and diverse output established Bozulich as a performance-installation artist and writer, adding to her often collaborative body of work as a musician, vocalist and composer (running with an eclectic field of musicians, including Nels Cline, Shahzad Ismaily, Mike Watt, Hadda Brooks, Lydia Lunch, Wayne Kramer and Willie Nelson, to name a few).
Though Bozulichâ€™s path has zigzagged erratically, randomly, across the globe, at some point, the journey becomes circular. Boy feels like a personal looking back, retrospect, with a mournful, not sentimental, perspective. In the liner notes she ironically concludes, â€œSo, yeah, this is my pop album.â€ However, Boy, only her fourth album under her own name, is Bozulichâ€™s deep blues record, as told from a surviving witness.
The opening cut, â€œAinâ€™t No Grave,â€ a deconstructed â€œversionâ€ of the traditional blues song, sets a thematic tone. Whether Bozulich employs the foundation of various traditional and classic musical genres, such as the waltz (the Middle Eastern-Eastern European influenced â€œGonna Stop Killingâ€), lullaby (the cautious â€œDonâ€™t Follow Meâ€) or cabaret (the after-hours â€œDancelandâ€), thereâ€™s not only a complex deconstruction at work, but thereâ€™s also a mournful, melancholic, angry and dense weariness that pervades throughout Boy.
With the assistance of two primary collaborator-instrumentalists, John Eichenseer (keyboards, viola, electronics, drums and percussion) and Andrea Belfi (drumset and synthesizer), Bozulich, who provides guitars, bass, synthesizers, samples and loops, as well as her commanding, husky vocals, took her material â€“ recorded, written and mixed in numerous locations â€“ and edited, added and remixed the record.
To go against expectation, the result delivers a few surprises. Boy is probably one of Bozulichâ€™s most accessible albums, at least since her 2003 debut solo release, Red Headed Stranger, her reinterpretation of Willie Nelsonâ€™s recording. Her new record also consists of some of the musicianâ€™s most vulnerable, sensitive and elegant moments, though it shouldnâ€™t be exactly a surprise. As she has illustrated with previous vocal work, such as Mike Wattâ€™s â€œDrove Up From Pedroâ€ (from Wattâ€™s 1995 solo release, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?) and â€œSometimes Iâ€™m Happy,â€ her 1998 duet with blues-jazz singer Hadda Brooks, Bozulich has shown her more tender side (a Marianne Faithfull type of â€œtendernessâ€).
An aching viola line echoes Bozulichâ€™s elegant vocal delivery in the spare elegy â€œDrowned To The Light,â€ while the gently swaying â€œWhat Is It Baby?â€ could be interpreted as a deconstructed blues ballad, sung by Elvis Presley in the â€˜50s (think Presleyâ€™s â€™54 â€œTomorrow Nightâ€).
If the more sensitive aspects of Boy represent Bozulichâ€™s â€œyin,â€ then its â€œyangâ€ is best exemplified in compositions such as â€œOne Hard Man, where her spoken-word chants, recalling Patti Smithâ€™s intense riffing, hammer over the top of a wall of backing vocals and metallic texture. The industrial gothic of â€œDeeper Than The Well,â€ which echoes her work with the post-punk of the aforementioned Ethyl Meatplow and Nick Caveâ€™s pre-Bad Seeds band, The Birthday Party, is a No Wave march into nihilistic oblivion. â€œI just wanna fuck up the whole world,â€ the songâ€™s narrator proclaims. â€œYes, the hole is deeper than the well.â€
As an accumulative whole, Boy is a well-balanced, focused and powerful recording. By stretching the traditional definitions of blues, especially Delta blues, she has created a more accessible format for her experimental approach, while retaining the bluesâ€™ haunting, melancholic and uneasy narratives and tones. For Bozulich, art is something you play for keeps. For an artist who literally lives out of a suitcase (or two), art provides to be an important constant â€“ a sense of home. Around the globe, the blues is one universal that translates in any culture. And unfortunately, thereâ€™s plenty of it. With Boy, Bozulich closes the distance between this entity of â€œhomeâ€ and a greater sorrowful, blues-drenched sense of â€œworld.â€