Rasputina – Sister Kinderhook

January 01, 1970



(Filthy Bonnet)




Not many artists have the raw intelligence, the gothic
originality or, let’s face it, the balls to bring together punk intensity,
baroque cello drama and the weirder peripheries of historical fiction, but
Rasputina’s Melora Creager is not just any artist. Maybe indie rock’s fiercest
cellist, Creager got her start playing with drag artists, made her first mark
with 4AD artists Ultra Vivid Scene and toured with Nirvana. She’s been
recording as Rasputina since 1992, honing a brainy, emotively charged,
double-cello-powered sound that ranges through history and literature for its
complicated narratives.


Sister Kinderhook draws lyrical sustenance from the
upstate New York community in which Creager
now lives, with a smattering of songs inspired by historical events in Columbia County. A strong, perhaps a-historical
feminist bent permeates these tales, as women foment the Anti-Rent Riots of
1844 (“Calico Indians”) or quietly resent the restricted life of mill girls
(“Kinderhook Hoopskirt Works”). Yet these are not the airbrushed histories you
might have encountered in grade school. An undercurrent of weirdness and
dysfunction runs through them, especially “The Snow Hen of Austerlitz” a
disturbingly beautiful song about a young girl raised as a bird in a pen. (It
is, perhaps, worth noting that Creager had her second child while she was
recording this album, and may have been thinking unusually hard about parenting
during the writing process.) 


The women in these songs are hemmed in by historical
circumstance, but strong and unconventionally empowered. The music, too, is
rife with estrogenated energy, Creager’s voice trilling and fluting over
alternatingly lush and brutal cello sounds. For this album, Creager is working
with fellow cellist Daniel DeJesus and punk drummer Catie D’Amica. It’s a set-up
that makes room for minimalist drama (D’Amica plays with an abbreviated but
potent kit of bass drum, finger cymbals and tambourine) and a surprising
lavishness. “Sweet Sister Temperance”, the album’s opener, begins in a capella
starkness and finishes in an overload of round-ish vocal overlays and
counterpoints, a dizzy intoxication that is too much and just right all at once.


Creager’s music touches all kinds of eras at once, with
echoes of Bach cantatas and renaissance madrigals drifting through
rock-strident, punk-forthright tunes. And, likewise, some of her songs find the
links between seemingly distant eras. “The 2 Miss Leavens” compares a pair of
girls, one killed in a car accident in modern times, the other captured by a
portrait artist in 1815.  Both are 16,
both die young, and Creager observes them both without sentimentality (though
with throbs of strings and giddy, multitracked vocals), singing “I am the
limner/I make portraits in miniature.” (If we’re playing rock star scrabble any
time soon, I want Creager on my team.)  
This wormhole through time approach comes up again in “Holocaust of
Giants”, where a hired man on Creager’s family farm digs up a fossil, which
Creager is convinced belonged to a giant. It’s a wild, skirling, slightly
overwrought song, with untrammeled vocals weaving over and through one another
in counterpoint, yet it comes to a head abruptly in the couplet: “The bible
speaks of these/there were giants in our midsts/but they slaughtered one
another in a meaningless war/thank your lucky stars that we don’t do that
anymore.” Except that we do.


Intense, intricate and full (occasionally over-full) of
drama, Sister Kinderhook is something unusual in the music business: the
work of a very intelligent person doing exactly what interests her. There are
no compromises, no waterings-down, no obvious singles or sing-along choruses.
Still if you want to hear what it sounds like when a talented, eccentric,
serious intellect wrestles with big issues, check this one out.


Standout Tracks: “Snow Hen of Austerlitz”
“Holocaust of Giants” “Kinderhook Hoopskirt Works” JENNIFER KELLY








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