This is my only authority.
My, my body is mine - to poison.
It is my gift for the killers to cut open."
-- Unwoman, "For the Killers"
Album: The Fires I Started
My Thoughts: A little dark cabaret, a little steampunk, a little political, a little electro, a little mythic, a little academic, a little war-torn, a little romantic, and a whole lot of wit, Unwoman (a.k.a. Erica Mulkey) can only be described as an entity of innumerable and far-reaching talents.
I actually regret to say that I only recently allowed myself to fall prey to her musical charms. To think of all the time I've clearly wasted!
For those who haven't heard Unwoman's music before... well, she's fairly difficult to pigeon-hole, to be honest (see above). Obviously, there's all that cello, sometimes with languid electro-synth tracks and other times with harsh heavy beats mixed in to add to the other-worldliness... Or perhaps "other-timeliness" is a better description. Meanwhile, her vocal stylings occasionally remind me of Miranda Sex Garden's Katharine Blake, but with less ethereal, fairy-tale subject matter and more heavy-breathed, film-noir allure.
Ultimately, this inability to pin her down is one of the things I like best about Unwoman's work so far. To call her fascinatingly anachronistic would be fitting - if only one could tell which direction and how far she has been displaced in time, so that we knew whether to mourn for a past forever lost or to yearn for a future we shall never see.
Highlights: The Fires I Started is a rich tapestry of aural delights. Picking out a few individual pieces on other albums is usually a good way to get a feel for the artist. But, in this case, each piece is a thing unto itself - highlighting one or another feels almost counterproductive, misrepresenting the immense range that is the complete album.
Of course, that is unacceptable; thus I shall endeavor to represent some of my particular favorites well and, hopefully, entice you, dear readers, as I have been enticed.
"The Future, the Boot" - Drawing its inspiration (and its chorus) from Orwell's infamous quote about the future involving "a boot stamping on a human face - forever", this jaunty tune plays with the idea of turning the other cheek and making beauty from horror in an attempt to subvert the assumed inevitability of such a future - "when life throws you sarin, you sing a sweet serenade", she trills wittily. Of course, even our singer seems to question whether this will really be all that effective in changing anything, asking "is there something bigger to believe in - to unite us under".
"The Heroine" - A poignant song of disappointment, it tells the tale of a war-time performer awaiting her beau/belle to appear at her underground performance in a locked-down city (I always imagine somewhere in WWII Nazi-occupied France in my own mind's eye, though the actual location is never said). The desired, though, never arrives, leaving our heartbroken performer to recognize that her beloved is either "a coward or could never love me or you have fallen to the enemy" - none of which, understandably, console her. All the other guests have appeared - but not her lover, who has, in one fashion or another, failed her.
"Siren Ship" - This piece, ostensibly about a defenseless treasure ship inviting pirates in order to entrap them, strikes me as a witty and pretty sea shanty. Of course, its elegant and cunning innuendos suggest a devious and extremely sensual (no, really, this song seriously turns me on) metaphor concerning a seductive and supposedly vulnerable beauty who lures her lovers to their emotional ruin. "Your type can never resist my call. I have been so many conquerors' downfall..."
"Star-Crossed" - This is one of the pieces where Unwoman's vocals seem most reminiscent of Katharine Blake. Elegant and slightly static-y, it has a fuzzy, unreal quality - as if playing from a dirty disc on an overused Victrola. I'm still not entirely sure what the song is about - or if it's about anything at all, really. But there's something about it's lilting, dream-like ambiance and soldierly drum-beat that really flows through the listener.
Final Thoughts: The Fires I Started is a mix of so many different elements that it defies any true classification and certainly anything resembling convention. A gem of independent music-making, it is atmospheric, alluring, and highly addicting (I suggest that Unwoman be forced to put warning labels on it).
If you don't believe me, go to Unwoman's website and listen to this or any of her other albums she has there for free. She also subscribes to the "pay what you want" model of music-vending, meaning that if you want to own some of her music and are a little strapped, she'll generally accept what you think is fair for most of her albums (and she doesn't skimp, either - other than the "singles", most of her albums seem to sit at a solid 15 or 16 songs).
I, of course, recommend throwing as much money at her as you can manage, either for one of her albums or during one of her crowd-funding endeavors.
I also recommend attending the CD-release party for the Fires I Started on Wednesday, Sept. 19th, 2012 (that's in two days, my darklings), so that you can see this siren perform in person. Details to be found HERE.
-- Mr. M.