steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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Effi Briest

"Rhizomes" LP/CD

Sacred Bones

Genre: shards, axes with angles

Brooklyn, NY

May 2010

The most overt elements of Rhizomes are the angular, nineties-indie-rock guitars (think Breeders, early Versus, Bettie Serveert) and Kelsey Barrett's vaguely Gothic yowl. Effi Briest's overall style sounds oddly aged, like something that might have come out in 1995, which isn't to say it finds itself out of time. Instead, Rhizomes is a remarkably gripping record that diverges from a lot of recent rock music. And that's pretty swell by me.

Let's begin by examining Barrett's vocals, as they endow this album with a lot of its distinct character. Her croon calls to mind an abstracter version of the Sneaker Pimps' Kelli Ali, of all people; she's got that same menacingly sweet quality to her timbre. It's an interesting complement to these often tormented, guitar-heavy constructions. Consider, for example, the urgent guitar churns of "Nights," whose feverish, Echo & The Bunnymen-esque squall is filled out astutely by Barrett's swooping, winsome bellow. Elsewhere, the weaving title-track, which may be this record's tastiest kernel, brings the goods with a rolling build to a juicy chord progression which ably accompanies her intensely dynamic singing.

Not every moment is stellar, but no single track betrays the mood and overall momentum of Rhizomes. If we're to get picky, perhaps it would be "New Quicksand," focused largely around tribal drums, a wiggly bassline, and largely unadorned vocals, which most disturbs the record's tone; still, we're not talking Synchronicity's "Mother." And while maintaining the record's overall pull is important, one of the strengths of Effi Briest's sound is their willingness to experiment. "Mirror Rim" is a strange one, objectively speaking, fitted with whirring vocals and backmasked melodics, and cradled by a prickly, offbeat rhythm; still, it's one of the record's most engaging moments.

The sum total of all this intense, inventive indie rock is an adventurous, gradually intoxicating album whose appeal builds over multiple listens. While melody plays a significant role here, Rhizomes is more a record of atmosphere, rhythm, and nuance -- even glistening guitar chords (as on "Nights") serve more as effects than core melodic elements. As a result, I've found that the album doesn't age in the way many poppier affairs do; while Rhizomes may eventually fall victim to the insipid reek of familiarity once its crannies have been scraped clean by replay after replay, in the (significant) interim, its songs have aged quite nicely. It's a remarkable accomplishment.

effi briest's myspace

"Mirror Rim":

Michael Tau

[Vitals: 9 tracks, distributed by the label, released May 11, 2010]