Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Front of Luxury

Rhythm King and Her Friends
The Front of Luxury / A Street Angel with a Cowboy Mouth

The follow-up to I am Disco from 2004 finds Pauline Boudry and Linda Wölfel reclining almost into coma, so laid-back is this record. Having lost one member, the leaner, meaner duo is (according to the press notes) rocking out on this record. Can't hear it myself. In fact, the album sounds strangely detached and difficult for the listener to engage with.

For ones with so much to say, RKAHF don't make themselves easily understood. They sing about sexuality, economics, neo-liberalism (you know, the usual rock topics) and one strains to catch the words and the meaning. It's odd to hear vocals mixed down to the point of ambience. Very frustrating. Take the title track. What is the front of luxury? What does "we want desire's working like a factory" mean? Why obscure the lyrics so that they become unintelligible?

I was intrigued by the title "Queer Diskotek", possibly a nod to Stereolab's "French Disko", but it's a bit moody for the dance floor. "Metrosexual Ride"'s vocals sit under the bass and drums and it's difficult to extract what sounds like a critique of those who want all the trendiness of queerness without all the hassle of discrimination. "C'est un visite" is about the only decipherable lyric. The standout is "Speedometer", which is actually quite an old song, appearing on their first self release some years back. It's cool and sultry and quite Stereolabesque but more tuneful than the newer material, which is curiously pallid.

More satisfying is the accompanying DVD of tour diaries from 2004-2005 and thus promotion for the previous record. A Street Angel with a Cowboy Mouth (nope, not sure what it means either) is an intriguing 40 minutes of Pauline Boudry's observations about herself, her band, their tour and engagement with one's work. None of this is resolved either but it's an enjoyable ride. Boudry has a dab hand with film, having already made several and this is several cuts above the usual japes-in-the-van tour vid.

During the film, the band crosses Europe, loses a member, returns to Berlin and goes back on the road. We learn a bit about Boudry's use of language, observe slow-dancing lesbians at a Parisian bar (to "How Deep Is Your Love", which she mistakenly disparages as "bad 80s" pop when, of course, it dates from the '70s), and visit several sound checks with tiny, tiny snippets of touring partners Angie Reed, Scream Club and others, who are never interviewed, for some reason.

In fact, the best interaction with a fellow musician comes when Francoise of Stereo Total puts make-up on Boudry and Wölfel, sending them out giggling with moustaches to play a gig in Austria. This comes after RKAHF arrive at the venue and the in-house tech guys ignore the band's tech woman. So, they are rather annoyed and it looks like a confrontation may develop. Yet, we see nothing of that night's performance. How did the small-town audience react to a lesbian band with moustaches? We don't find out.

While the overall feel of the piece is dispassionate, there is understated humour: Boudry's T-shirt reading "Heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses"; her matter of fact explanation of them stealing the jacket that gave the band their name; and a group of lesbians she has just met enticing her bandmate Sara to go out on the town by calling up to her hotel window.

At the start of the film, Boudry expresses her frustration at the difficulty in finding female musicians (or "girl bands" as she puts it; a shame how "girl" has made a comeback to encompass "woman". It's as if feminism never happened!) and flips through her LP collection to show the discoveries she has made, everything from Siouxsie to Conscious Daughters. She goes on to say she wanted to illustrate the history of girl bands. Again it is not clear how this fits in with the ensuing film. Is this film a history of her band, her story? Is it meant to be one tiny chapter of a larger metaphorical book? Who knows? That strand disappears once the tour is underway.

Unanswered questions abound. Boudry drops such ambiguous statements as: "we are queering the audience through the way we address them" or "behind the trendy window displays it reeks of long work hours, flexibility and precarity", and one feels context is called for. One well-made point is in her critique of the music press for concentrating on male acts, and thus "listening to only half of the sound". This is illustrated by half of a broken record rotating on a turntable. Touché.

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