Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Things we like: Bella Novela, Solvej Schou

We live in interesting times. As countervailing forces -- one striving to make America more just and inclusive, the other seeking to maintain the status quo at all costs -- threaten to rip our country apart, I often wonder where the new protest music is. Here are a couple of answers to that question.

One of the most impactful tracks on Mike Watt's Ball-Hog or Tugboat is the one in which Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill takes Watt to task for being part of the "little white rock boy fuckin' hall of shame." That record is 24 years old, and rockaroll is still a boys' club, in spite of the proliferation of outfits like my town's Girls Rock Fort Worth and other organizations which are working to break down the stage door. Bella Novela and Solvej Schou propose other alternatives.

Bella Novella coalesced a decade ago, when its three members were working together at just such a rockaroll summer camp for teens, going on to crowd fund two albums before cutting this latest one with their winnings from an annual band battle in their hometown of Long Beach, California. On  Incinerate,  the trio manages the most subversive feat: making music that pulls you in with irresistible hooks before zapping you between the ears with a powerful (and unexpected) message. From opener "The Reckoning," which sounds for all the world like LP fronting Rush, they blend anthemic rock -- bound to catch the ear of anyone who thrilled to Bohemian Rhapsody at the cinema and replete with Jacob Heath's harmonized metallic guitar leads -- and the ABBA-like pop appeal of keytar-slinging Jackie Laws' soaring, melodic vocals. The fact that Laws and drummer Jannea McClure are onstage making loud, aggressive music is as much of a statement as their lyrics, which on Incinerate are "a call to arms to incinerate the patriarchy."

On Quiet for Too Long, Solvej Schou (pronounced SOUL-vye SKOH) takes a more direct and in-your-face approach. Her stripped-down garage-rock sound has a rawer edge, with the vocals mixed right up front, so it's impossible to miss lines like "As the world burns red / Blue kills black / America, your hatred is gonna crack" ("America") or "Age and beauty, age and beauty / How does it feel to be a woman in the world?" ("Age and Beauty"). Like the Paranoid Style's Elizabeth Nelson, Schou has a career as a journo: she's worked for the Associated Press and Entertainment Weekly, among others, and her lyrics can be viewed as another type of reporting. She's descended from a Holocaust survivor (her grandmother, whose child and siblings were murdered by the Nazis) and, thanks to her Danish father, holds dual citizenship; she's played in bands in Copenhagen and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as well as her native Los Angeles. She's got big pipes and plays a mean guitar, but her greatest assets are her keen intelligence and defiant attitude, which enable her to craft well-observed commentaries on current political issues that hit with the impact of a hurled brick on a plate glass wiindow.


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