Clever, Fun, Theatrically Surreal Sounds from Valerie Kuehne

by delarue

Cellist Valerie Kuehne’s new album Phoenix Goes Crazy is intended as a spoof of early 20th century classical lieder and is dedicated to a cat who’s sadly no longer with us. The whole thing is streaming at Kuehne’s Bandcamp site. You could call this classical punk, or punk classical. Although her previous album, Dream Zoo was a lot louder and more assaultive, this one’s more punk in terms of focus and humor. Like most serious cellists, Kuehne has classical training, something that shows itself most clearly in the unselfconsciously beautiful, swirly second half of the opening track where she blends with the violins of Natalia Steinbach and Jeffrey Young, Jonathan Wood Vincent’s accordion and Sean Ali’s bass. The first half of that song is totally punk, with sarcastic vocals and cheap jokes over a an offhandedly nasty staccato groove.

The rest of the album is “B-sides, rarities, and a previously unreleased group improvisation,” and it’s a lot of fun. There’s 98 savage cellopunk seconds worth of Pills, then a tongue-in-cheek spoken word-and-atmospherics piece, Billy and the Clown, with a nod to The Gift, by the Velvets. The Waldo Jeffers character in this one has a childhood obsession with clowns, then a traumatic experience which he must expiate in order to gain closure. Will he graduate from clown school? Will he finally come face to face with his nemesis? No spoilers here.

After that there’s a sort of minimialist hardcore song that delivers a nightmare scenario “in an abandoned Taco Bell with no roof, surroundeed by cats and they’ll all be meowing, meowing, meowing!!!” Long, Long Sleep nicks the hook from Signs of the Zodiac by cello rockers Rasputina and turns it into what seems to be a parody of a High Romantic death song. The album ends with fourteen minutes of the previously unreleased group improvisation, a twisted and very funny commentary on fussy trendoid food obsessions and death. As a surreal litany of menu options winds down, the cast ponder other implications of their final meal: one insists on nostalgia, another insists on having her cats there, another “wouldn’t want to meet Jesus when I’m fat.” Kuehne gigs around town, and far outside of town, with a marathon persistence to rival B.B. King in his most energetic years. Fridays she’s often at Spectrum, where she books a lot of her Super Coda shows featuring a vast cast of names from both the past and future of the global avant garde. She’s also playing the big Small Beast reunion of sorts this coming Monday, Jan 7 at the Delancey, upstairs, probably around 9 PM.