Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi Go Down the Rabbit Hole Into Art-Rock

by delarue

Violinist Carla Kihlstedt, a founding member of Tin Hat, has built a career that spans the worlds of Eastern European and Russian folk music, film scores and the avant garde. Her new album with her Rabbit Rabbit Radio song-a-month duo project with her husband, percussionist Matthias Bossi, simply titled Volume 1, is an eerie collection of lushly but plaintively arranged art-rock. Kihlstedt’s unselfconsciously breathy, angst-fueled vocals echo Siouxsie Sioux in their most dramatic moments, as does the music in places. Otherwise, Kihlstedt’s writing here is as eclectic as you would imagine, a bracing and sometimes surreal juxtaposition of atmospherics, dancing folk themes, classical cadenzas and burning rock riffage. Her lyrics are terse and vivid, full of disquieting imagery. Bossi’s songs are even more surreal, considerably more lighthearted and more rock and pop-oriented. The duo are playing the album release show on Saturday, July 13 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub, most likely with a parade of special guests; $15 tickets are still available as of today.

The album opens with the bristling, anthemic Curious One, Kihlstedt sort of a one-woman, upper-register Rasputina, adding layer upon layer of string textures over chromatically-charged minor key changes. The eerie After the Storm alterntes between tricky pizzicato and a big, soaring chorus, an elegantly brooding portait of a storm or shipwreck survivor – or widow, maybe – who’s lost it all.

Bossi’s first track here is Hero and a Saint, a trippy trip-hop number driven by echoey Rhodes piano. Me Gusto El Calor is dadaesque, catchy new wave pop, with layer after layer of synth riffs. The album’s final track, Merci Vielmal, whimsically mashes up a bunch of European languages. And Ballad For No One works a brooding  cabaret piano vein.

Khilstedt takes centerstage on the album’s most gripping, intense material. Newsreel builds from a series of mantras, “there was a…”., up to a menacing circus rock theme flavored with spiraling ELO-ish violin. In the Dead of the Night builds off murky low-register dobro, creating a creepy desert rock tableau. The longest and most Siouxsie-esque song here, Hush Hush rises from astringent violin and bells to a dark chromatic vamp: “The bones of this house heal things, we don’t dare say these peculiar thoughts,” Kihlstedt intones enigmatically. Over the spare electric guitar and percussion of Home Again, she evokes Rachelle Garniez in a distantly lurid moment: “I’ll take my time crawling back home to you; don’t rush me baby, I’m closer than you know.” And Paper Prison, with its moody, opaque, slowly crescendoing atmospherics and murky sound effects, sounds like the Cocteau Twins gone gothic. Even considering how brilliant Kihlstedt’s work with Tin Hat has been over the years, this is just as good, if completely different. It’s available as an album, or a subscription, a good reason to follow this project as it continues to evolve.