Foggy Notion: Boy by Carla Bozulich

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“…sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”-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: “I 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 it’s easy to find a situation that works with the cash or the cats on hand.”

Compromising, conventional and traditional are not some of the adjectives that would be employed when describing Bozulich’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 Bozulich’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, “So, yeah, this is my pop album.” However, Boy, only her fourth album under her own name, is Bozulich’s deep blues record, as told from a surviving witness.

The opening cut, “Ain’t No Grave,” a deconstructed “version” 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 “Gonna Stop Killing”), lullaby (the cautious “Don’t Follow Me”) or cabaret (the after-hours “Danceland”), there’s not only a complex deconstruction at work, but there’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 – recorded, written and mixed in numerous locations – and edited, added and remixed the record.

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To go against expectation, the result delivers a few surprises. Boy is probably one of Bozulich’s most accessible albums, at least since her 2003 debut solo release, Red Headed Stranger, her reinterpretation of Willie Nelson’s recording. Her new record also consists of some of the musician’s most vulnerable, sensitive and elegant moments, though it shouldn’t be exactly a surprise. As she has illustrated with previous vocal work, such as Mike Watt’s “Drove Up From Pedro” (from Watt’s 1995 solo release, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?) and “Sometimes I’m Happy,” her 1998 duet with blues-jazz singer Hadda Brooks, Bozulich has shown her more tender side (a Marianne Faithfull type of “tenderness”).

An aching viola line echoes Bozulich’s elegant vocal delivery in the spare elegy “Drowned To The Light,” while the gently swaying “What Is It Baby?” could be interpreted as a deconstructed blues ballad, sung by Elvis Presley in the ‘50s (think Presley’s ’54 “Tomorrow Night”).

If the more sensitive aspects of Boy represent Bozulich’s “yin,” then its “yang” is best exemplified in compositions such as “One Hard Man, where her spoken-word chants, recalling Patti Smith’s intense riffing, hammer over the top of a wall of backing vocals and metallic texture. The industrial gothic of “Deeper Than The Well,” which echoes her work with the post-punk of the aforementioned Ethyl Meatplow and Nick Cave’s pre-Bad Seeds band, The Birthday Party, is a No Wave march into nihilistic oblivion. “I just wanna fuck up the whole world,” the song’s narrator proclaims. “Yes, the hole is deeper than the well.”

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 blues’ 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 – a sense of home. Around the globe, the blues is one universal that translates in any culture. And unfortunately, there’s plenty of it. With Boy, Bozulich closes the distance between this entity of “home” and a greater sorrowful, blues-drenched sense of “world.”