Carla Bozulich: Boy

Boy may very well be Carla Bozulich's self-proclaimed “pop record,” but it is so in accordance with her own radically skewed and perverse understanding of the concept. And what, after all, might one reasonably expect from a so-called art-punk heroine whose first solo record was nothing less than a full-scale reinterpretation of Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger. A born provocateur, Bozulich has been stirring things up for decades, whether in group projects (The Geraldine Fibbers during the ‘90s and Scarnella, an experimental outfit she formed with Nels Cline) or as a film composer or performance artist. But it's the body of work she's amassed through her long-standing association with Constellation that has brought her the greatest degree of exposure and recognition. Label fans will already know Bozulich for the three Evangelista albums—2008's Hello Voyager, 2009's Prince of Truth, and 2011's In Animal Tongue—released on the Montreal label, as well as the other two albums issued under her own name prior to Boy.

As stated, Boy might be pop, but it's hardly pop of the Bieber type, even if its ten songs satisfy some of the conventions of the genre, foremost among them concision, directness, melodic hooks, and verse-chorus-bridge structures. But don't get the wrong idea: Boy is a scabrous and raw set whose forty-two minutes are informed by a take-no-prisoners sensibility that shares more with Lydia Lunch and Exene Cervenka than Katy Perry. Though there might be some common ground with respect to the fact that both deal with memories of club experience, Bozulich's “Danceland,” needless to say, inhabits an altogether different sonic universe than Olivia Newton-John's “Xanadu.”

Though Bozulich was ably assisted on Boy by others, including John Eichenseer, who contributes keyboards, viola, electronics, and drums, and drummer Andrea Belfi, it's largely her show: in addition to playing guitar, synths, and bass and creating the artwork, she wrote, produced, and mixed the album. In terms of content, the songwriting reflects Bozulich's restless, nomadic spirit—which doesn't surprise, given that, by her own estimation, she's “moved 25, 50 or more times in each year since 2006.” Not only that, but the album itself was recorded all over the world, “everywhere from Burgazada Island to Paris to Athens… (f)rom Dharamshala to NYC to Joshua Tree to Zagreb, etc.”

Her fierce, indomitable spirit is evident from the outset—“Ain't No Grave” inaugurates the album with the line “There ain't no grave that can hold me down”—and the music burns with a smoldering, blues-rock intensity. Elsewhere, “One Hard Man” oozes a blood-curdling venom in its dissonant guitar stabs and primitive industrial-rock pulse, the haunted “Gonna Stop Killing” plays like some disturbed kind of cryptic confessional (“I'm gonna stop killing today…”), and “Drowned to the Light” exerts a gothic blues-ballad pull in its allusion to a Virginia Woolf-styled death (“It happened so quickly—the current did take me… Found rest in the depths”). Bozulich's own claim notwithstanding (“So, yeah, this is my pop album”), Boy plays less like a vacuous radio-friendly collection than the latest posting by a brutally honest raconteur intent on exploring the darkest of all possible corners during her worldly travels.

March 2014