Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cracked and Diseased with Eliza and The Strange

Sometimes it takes a lot of leg-work in this business to find the next underground sensation, and sometimes they just fall right into your lap. A lot of the bands that have made it on to NewRockNews43 have been the result of many hours searching for just the right band to next review. Eliza and The Strange, however, were the happiest of accidents that have turned into an obsessive listening binge for the last 72 hours that's almost kept me from any sleep at all. Trolling the random Facebook feeds that pop up in front of me daily, I was intrigued by a few words detailing a new "voodoo-rock" band from Nova Scotia. That intrigue has turned into an obsession and a new top-five band in my head.

Eliza and The Strange

Eliza and The Strange are a creepy voodoo-rock five-piece from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada that sound like darkness and exude a sexy deviance I can't help but find myself attracted to. Composed of Eliza White (lead vocals and organ), Alex MacAskill (guitar), Ian Bennett (guitar), Jake Seaward (bass), and Kenny Myers (drums), Eliza and The Strange strangle from their instruments a hair-raising groove that would find home in any Tim Burton or Johnny Depp film. At just over 30 minutes long, their self-titled debut release (which just came out this past Friday!) drips in sex, fury, dirt, and grit, and oozes from the speakers with the same kind of intoxicating rhythms that made songs like "Queer" and "Vixen" super-sized hits for Garbage.

Eliza and The Strange's self-titled debut album

One of the hardest things to do with this album is to find just the right songs to go into detail on, because there are simply too many good ones to choose from. "Lady of the Night" is bass-led by Seaward and showcases White's deceptively sexy vocals. The guitar riff and chords laid down by MacAskill are simple and catchy, and set against Myers' cymbal crashes, perfectly encapsulate the feeling of straight power behind White's breathy vocals (though Bennett is new to the group and does not play on the majority of the album, he does play on the album's final track, "They've Got Secrets").
Yet my favorite track form the minute I hear it is track number two, "She Ain't Pretty." From second one, MacAskill's guitar riffs are addictive, and as they disappear behind Seaward's basslines and Myers' dimming during the verses, the blast/disappear form that details the song's structure is a beautifully clear and brilliant tribute to the Pixies' loud-quiet-loud dynamic. The rhythms in the song are contagious, and at just over 2 minutes, "She Ain't Pretty" is a blitzkrieg assault on my senses, tearing me apart one minute and gone the next. White's vocals are sultry and seductive during the verses, but blast forward as the chorus comes, and mixed with her dirty organ notes, the gritty guitar chords and minimalist drumming, I'm reminded of a Mudhoney-meets-Garbage mashup. With a lead-single track like this, it's no wonder that Eliza and The Strange chose "She Ain't Pretty" as the song for their first music video. Shot in an eerie black and white and washed out purple, the music video for "She Ain't Pretty" is one mindfuck after another in the best of ways. Scenes of the band tearing it up live intermingle with shots of a girl dancing and walking through a cemetery. White and company revel in the dirt and grit that they pull from their instruments, and watching them play live is like watching a building engulfed in flames: almost too scary to watch, but so ethereal and transcendent that you can't look away. Beautifully scary and wonderfully creepy, "She Ain't Pretty" is a five-star track and smash single if there ever was one. Bringing together Dead Weather-style vocals and White Stripes-influenced fretwork, Eliza and The Strange make this song an instant classic. To add fuel to the already blazing fire, MacAskill brings the whole house of cards crashing down at the end, letting loose on a blistering guitar riff and solo that tops out chaos-driven drumming and bombshell-basslines. If you listen to only one track from this album, "She Ain't Pretty" has to be it.

To continue their voodoo-rock groove, Eliza and The Strange come back a few minutes later with "White Lies," a riff-driven song that builds on itself with effects and rhythm that make it unforgettable. Wet with sweat and grime, "White Lies" is everything that's great about rock 'n' roll and going to a small, hole-in-the-wall club to see an amazing band. I can feel myself being jostled and jilted between the other sweaty concert goers, and any song that can bring that to me as I sit writing at a computer has an innate intense power that makes it more than just a diamond in the rough. MacAskill's bouncy guitar rhythm is rough around the edges and helped along by Myers' simplistic yet decisive drumming. White's organ creeps onto the scene with muddy blues notes, and twinkles dimly in the night just over MacAskill's nimble fretwork. With distortion and feedback enough for ten guitars, MacAskill sets "White Lies" apart from the rest with a subtle conniption of attitude that speaks to the versatility and power behind the track. Yet "White Lies" also plays host to a brilliantly disguised rhythm change, and with the stop/start dynamic of the song and White's hypnotic vocals to sway to, I'm lost in a dark vortex of purpled-black.
"They've Got Secrets" is not only the last track on Eliza and The Strange's album, but it's also the longest. I love the slow, droning bassline, the laid-back drum beat and vocal set that reek of blues-rock heritage and attitude. The two minutes in White goes full-throttle on her organ as Seaward and Myers share energy on the rhythm section just below MacAskill's heavy riffs. Bennett, who makes his recording debut with the band on this track, is quick to keep up with MacAskill, injecting his own brand of adrenaline into the brittle skeleton of the song. The only way to describe this song is as darkness incarnate amped up to an epic level and laced with seductive hypnotism. The best way to close out the album, and certainly a track that leaves me wanting more, "They've Got Secrets" is a brash whirlwind of distorted guitars and blood-curdling wails.
The fact that this is the debut album says something to me about this band. Eliza and The Strange are full-throttle all the way through all 30 minutes of this recording, and with these ten songs under their belts, the hair on the back of my necks stands up at the thought of what else these guys could be capable of. The combination of minimalist rhythms and eerily seductive vocals is a winning idea, and on their self-titled debut, Eliza and The Strange take the idea to its most triumphant heights. The only thing that's strange about this band is that they don't already have a major following of thousands. No doubt that when people start listening to this album in addition to the music video, big things will start to happen for Eliza and The Strange. I can't wait to see what this band comes up with next, because I know in my bones it's going to be something reveling in voodoo-rock and unbelievably addictive.

Sounds Like: The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, Garbage, The Kills

Key Tracks from Eliza and The Strange: "She Ain't Pretty," "Crack," "White Lies," "Disease," "Lady of the Night," "They've Got Secrets"

Check out Eliza and The Strange more at their: Homepage, Facebook and Myspace  

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