Some people live and breathe their music, as if they could be recast against any environment, any colouring particulars- the only constant their necessity for compelling music's making. Carla Bozulich is one such artist, her career having spanned 3 decades now and reincarnated in upwards of seven bands. Whilst her back catalogue is as diverse as it is long (dig out some Ethyl Meatplow if you can find it), it was pleasing to see her picked up by Montreal-based label Constellation in 2005. After flirting with success after covering Willie Nelson's Red Header Stranger in it's entirely, Bozulich largely fell off the radar until, quite out of the blue, she announced her new project on an entirely new label. Better known for it's work with the city's then-blossoming avant-garde scene, 2005 saw Constellation move beyond both its city wall and the genres it had pioneered. Carla, from Los Angeles, represented a canny move: In Animal Tongue is her fifth album for the label, her fourth under the Evangelista banner that has allowed yet another artistic and critical reinvention, as well as offering Bozulich a creative renewal.
The Evangelista band, comprising bassist Tara Barnes (formerly of the excellent thrash-nihilist Duchesses) and sound-artist Dominic Cramp, was itself borne of the road. Having released her debut for the label, also titled Evangelista, a touring band was formed. Herein, Barnes and Bozulich set upon a creative unity that would last to today and bear its increasing influence on the music. Gone are the dream-set, ominous samples that would mark her Constellation debut with an unruly tension- throughout this band's existence, their has almost been an insistence on it resonating exactly as such: a band. People in a room, playing instruments through amplifiers.
On album opener 'Artificial Lamb', you can hear the crackle of guitar leads and electricity. Clean recordings and few (if any) overdubs- the track's timid instrumentation gently imposes itself whilst Bozulich moans with desperation- it's final lines delivered with a cracked, aching high pitch. Its a telling introduction to what is a very restrained and at times sombre album. 'Black Jesus' barely awakens, the vocal delivery passes off like a spoken word against which the music, the repeated riff, picked from a sea of reverb. On the title track, as the track reaches a climactic moment with chorus and thumped drums, repeated calls of “she sung in animal tongue” are delivered at once with pride and sadness.
This is not an album for mornings or shining July days, and it is appropriate that Constellation has chosen to release the album in the midst of Autumn. Everything here sounds live, and is cast against the kind of very loud silence that is only present in the very late hours at night. Frequently performative, sung seemingly ad-lib- there's a creeping feeling that pervades In Animal Tongue, only increasing as the record reaches the nostalgia-psychosis of 'Tunnel to the Stars' and the schizophrenia of closing number 'Hatching'. There's an inexplicable beauty to the maddening frequencies and drumming that abounds here, and this is how I feel about the entire record. It is deeply focused, recorded and performed with care- but it sounds like it was recorded in the wood cabin from Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. This album is certainly not for everyone, but unlike that film- In Animal Tongue is, you get the impression, entirely for real, serious and committed to the notion of extraordinary listening spaces. That's enough, for me. Whilst it might not have the strike out value of Hello Voyager (which was, let's face it, largely a pop album)- In Animal Tongue is a profoundly interesting album that I'll treasure in my collection. It's weirded me out frequently and significantly enough to merit the 7 stars I'm giving it, though newcomers to Carla Bozulich might want to start elsewhere.
First published in the405