Niobe: Voodooluba

Close your eyes when listening to Niobe's Voodooluba and you might find yourself transported back to the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, Switzerland circa 1916; in general, the album simulates what the resident dada house band might have sounded like while they entertained mystified clubgoers. A similar sense of genre-defying reigns throughout Niobe's album too. In fact, nothing even remotely conventional appears on the album until a bass-driven vamp surfaces on the third track “Zur Wilden Flotte.” Voodoolub, thirteen idiosyncratic songs whose dense, detailed arrangements suggest a full band at frantic play, is, in fact, the work of a single artiste Yvonne Cornelius. What at first sounds bizarre gradually becomes less so with each listen, and much of that's due to Cornelius's voice, the brightest and most powerful star in this particular firmament. It's an audacious recording that's free of cliché and perfectly encapsulates the Sonig spirit.

That playfulness is immediately evident in the opening piece “Voodooluba TV Show.” Co-written by Andi Toma, the song unspools through wild episodes, starting with a declamatory drum processional and then segueing into a demented collage of harps, tympani, cymbal crashes, and voices. As its title suggests, “Tengo Yoruba” merges Africa ritual with Köln glitch, while the possessed spirits and acoustic guitar plucks on “Ghoast's Wharf Quart” recall the equally eccentric sounds of Lech Jankowski (such as his haunting soundtrack for The Brothers Quay's Institute Benjamenta).

Cornelius is smart enough, though, to realize that an album filled exclusively with eccentricities, no matter how novel, won't endure so wisely includes a number of settings that, while still unconventional, showcase a more affecting side. “Jaguaruna” gently drifts in and out of consciousness, with storm ripples and faint alarm chimes rousing it from sleep, while her singing in the simple waltz ballad “Good Old Owl” is soulfully sweet; her delicate blues-jazz vocal also goes largely untreated in “Time Too Slow.” Voodooluba is, admittedly, a challenging listen but engagingly (as opposed to alienatingly) so. It's a refreshingly unique collection of alien pop, exotic incantations, and dada-like vignettes, an aural analogue to the Buñuel-Dali landmark Un chien andalou; both are full of unexpected twists and turns and surreal moments, even if Niobe's album includes nothing quite so jarring as the image of an eyeball slit by a razor.

December 2004