Scout Niblett – The Calcination of Scout Niblett

January 01, 1970

(Drag City)


Calcination, if you’re not a chemistry whiz, means heating
substances to just below their melting point, in order to flush out impurities.
It’s hard to imagine Scout Niblett, the British-born, grunge-influenced
songwriter having any impurities left after the searing, disintegrating
processes hinted at in this, her fifth full-length album. “Welcome…to my
self-made sweatbox,” she murmurs in the title track, the snaky blues melody
sung in a voice that is nearly supine with exhaustion, yet ready to break into
a defiant, triumphant wail. Struggle, strength, despair and triumph vie for
supremacy in these bare tunes. The album seems, at times, like a form of primal
scream therapy.


Niblett worked again with Steve Albini for Calcination, and he manages to surround
even the loudest cuts with three-dimensional silence. From this deep well of
sonic spaces, she jolts and confronts with just voice, drums and electric
guitar. Her singing is raw, slurred with blues slides, often quiet but prone to
electric crescendos that come out of nowhere. Her guitar playing, though, is
what separates this album from the common run of blues folk revivalists. On the
one hand, she plays sparsely, sparely, with simple riffs that leave ample space
for reflection. On the other hand, her guitar can turn astonishingly loud and
distorted and rock. The solo that closes out “Cherry Cheek Bomb” has the weight
of Led Zeppelin, the untethered aggression of Bleach-era Nirvana. As on previous albums, she also plays drums in
battering, off-kilter flourishes that are more catharsis than rhythmic


The songs on Calcination are deceptively simple sounding, constructed out of repetitive, minimal melodic
lines and impressionistic images, but that simplicity is where they get their
power. “Lucy Lucifer”, accompanied just with drums, has the primitive clarity
of a hex laid down by firelight, while the wonderfully uneasy “I.B.D.” follows
a thread of Appalachian picking through the darkest thickets of self-doubt.
There’s something ritual about these songs, an aura of hard, necessary healing
through pain. It’s not an easy listen, but Calcination will stay with you for a long time.


“The Calcination of Scout Niblett”, “I.B.D.”, “Cherry Cheek


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