Violin/cello duo Naked Roots Conducive – Natalia Steinbach and Valerie Kuehne – come out of the far side of the avant garde, where music meets performance art. But wait wait wait – their new album Sacred521 is an elegant, plaintively composed mix of attractively tuneful shortscale neo-baroque and neoromantic compositions interspersed with the kind of haggard, assaultive kind of improvisational noise the two may be best known for. Both artists sing, strongly, dramatically and fearlessly: scaramouche but no fandango. If circus rock is your thing, or if you ever scoured every used vinyl store in town for the first ELO album and then finally caved in to the lure of some sketchy Russian site and downloaded it, this is for you. The pair’s next gig is on July 16 at 7:30 PM at ABC No Rio on a bill with string noise/movement crew Uniska Wahala Kano and performance artists Tif Robinette a.k.a. Agrofemme (who once did something akin to what Ivich did in L’Age de Raison), Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow and Rudi Salpietra. Cover is a sliding scale starting at $3.
The new album is available both as a download from Bandcamp, where it’s streaming, and as a handmade limited edtion cd. It immediately raises the question of whether this is all just a ruse, a lure to get you to think that they actually like playing arrestingly carnivalesque art-rock themes in the same vein as Rasputina, and then to draw you into one of their live shows where they can bludgeon you. Whether or not that’s true, in either case, it’s worth the risk.
The album’s opening song is Sadness/Madness, establishing a – gasp – warmly Bach-like theme exploring a hope/despair dichotomy. The second track, In the Cellar is a creepy, Halloweenish chromatic waltz where Kuehne indulges her turophile (google it) fixation. fueled by Steinbach’s shivery staccato attack – that, or maybe camembert.
Happy Father’s Day in the Name of Science is an alternately doomed and triumphant existentialist mini-suite built around an explosively noisy interlude, Kuehne’s spiky rhythm underpinning Steinbach’s resonant longform lines until things get crazy. Nameless Story has a a catchy noir cabaret/circus rock strut: again, Rasputina comes to mind. Eating Dirt sounds pretty much like that until a balletesque 6/8 theme that gives way to ambience and back and forth: these two pack a lot into a single song.
“Everybody has their own fucked up opinions, wouldn’t it be nice if I had just the one to hold onto,” Steinbach ponders on WIBN: by now what’s been so far an emotional rollercoaster ride has become one pissed-off album. Happy Things is the most plainspoken and harrowing, and cruelly sarcastic, and maybe ironically its catchiest number: Finally, seven tracks in, Steinbach lets down her guard: “I need you to know this pain is for real…I can’t take any more bruises.” The album ends up with Demons No. 1 – a manic-depressive juxtaposition of a couple of contrasting mantras – and its second part, an epic that ends 180 degrees from where you might think it would – or does it? Yikes! If they want, Steinbach and Kuehne can write these acerbic, smartly anthemic themes til the cows come home, score a bunch of indie films and live happily ever after…or they can hang on the fringes and have all kinds of noisy fun. Or maybe both.