A horrible hack

Roseanne Barrr

Repulsion

Year Released: 2012
Format: LP
Label: Primative Sounds - Tuff Enuff Records
 
Reviewed by Alex Hannan on Apr 24, 2013
This is a record by turns thought-provoking and hair-raising, chaotic and challenging to the listener. Challenging to the reviewer, too. One way to put it would be that a genealogy of influence (a standard part of dialogue about bands, like the flyers that inform you that such a band is "for fans of Bad Brains / Sonic Youth / Bikini Kill") won't get you close to the interesting parts of what's going on here. Ostensibly it's a record of action more than theory, without manifestos, explanations or essays, and yet it begs questions, drives wedges into assumptions, destabilises things taken for granted. At times it sounds like something mysterious and blood-curdling overheard from next door through a tower block's paper-thin walls.

There's a narrative / collage approach to many of the lyrics here - borrowings from Jean Genet and Anna Kavan are prominent alongside original material. Although there are plenty of first-person lyrics on the record, like the start of "Letter":

"Ten years ago I dreamt of you / I wrote in my diary / Now you're on my couch / I'm sorry about the mess here it's my state of mind / You came in my mouth, I smiled at you"

they are sung by either or both band members, and the relationship between singer and song is put into question - it's not as straightforward as a simple confessional. Despite this the lyrics feel intensely personal, sometimes sexualised or violent, sometimes abject. Questions of gender and sexuality are left open-ended in the lyrics and sleeve images. In interview they have referred to an invocation of "the power play inherent in our sexuality, identities, gender, certain power dynamics inherent in capitalism, in terms of the blurred lines of power, labour etc."

ROSEANNE BARRR revels here in a kind of non-binary thinking which uses ambiguity as a weapon. It's a classic tactic of creative queer activity. If you view normalisation as oppression, as I've heard the root of queer thinking usefully defined, you might not want to choose from among options pre-shaped for you, even if a choice is presented as non-negotiable. Ambiguity in fine art all too often seems to hide a want of ideas, but not here.

Musically, ROSEANNE BARRR seem to have widened their scope since the "Dumb Broad" demo. Some songs from that recording and the split with GROPETOWN are included here, but alongside the repetitive chants and bolshy attitudes more common in those earlier recordings the LP includes more reflective, sinister passages, a dialling back of volume to encompass looming resonances and eerie clangs as an accompaniment to spoken word psychodrama, as in "Skinned Rabbit". As in their earlier songs, there are moments when they might seem to be channeling SONIC YOUTH or HOLE, but fundamentally these moments feel like the work of a wilder beast which has chosen to shapeshift momentarily, a strategy akin to the lyrical quotations and appropriations. There are also two covers, or re-interpretations: "No means NO Mariah" seems to reinterpret Mariah Carey's "Touch my body" as a white-knuckle drama about boundaries and consent: and the cover of "That's the way boys are" follows in the footsteps of feminist No Wavers Y PANTS in bringing out the psychic distress behind Lesley Gore's cutesily submissive 60s pop hit.

This is a fiery and interesting piece of work. I regret missing out on their recent Leeds gig - hope there's a next time...


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