Ecclectic sludge/doom/noise-rock road warriors Jucifer will be making their annual trip to Toronto on Thursday, where The Garrison should prove to be a suitable venue for their sonic attack. The interesting thing about this band is that while they’re heavier than a herd of thundering elephants in the live setting, their recorded output tends more towards poppier, grunge-rock territory–excluding their latest full-length, that is. Alas, I’ll be taking a look back at their last three albums over the next couple days in anticipation of this gig. Note to self: Earplugs are essential.
L’Autrichienne (Relapse, 2008)
Jucifer’s most ambitious effort yet, this 70-minute concept album based on the French Revolution contains a whopping 21 tracks (which includes a few interludes, mind you) and sees the duo employing a vast array of instruments such as timpani, piano, organ, violin, cello, trumpet, trombone, flute, piano, tambourine and Mellotron. Suffice to say, it’s pretty heady stuff.
“Blackpowder” opens things up with a winding riff and some pleasant vocal harmonies, more of their alt rock fare. What comes next is completely unexpected, 32 seconds of pounding grindcore in the form of “Thermidor” that’s over in less time than it takes to type this sentence. But then we’re back to jangly, ringing riffs and syrupy sweet vocals, “To Earth” also incorporating some of the aforementioned interesting instruments (I think I hear a Mellotron) in the background. “Deficit” sees the heavy sludge come in, accompanied by light, airy vocals a la “Centralia” off the previous record. “Champ de Mars” also showcases Amber Valentine’s haunting voice, a lone grimmm guitar riff backing her as she reaches into her higher register until Livengood joins in, and kicks things up a notch.
“Fall of the Bastille” is another vicious grindcore number, this one lasting a little longer at 57 seconds. But no sooner does it end than we’re greeted with another jangly guitar riff, Valentine singing grammatically-deficient French lyrics in a cooing voice on “To the End,” the beauty of the piece preventing me from flying into a rage. “Armada” is the second-longest song here, at a shade under six months, and perhaps the eeriest. Those distorted riffs just ooze out of the speakers, and when Valentine sings “So beat your battle drums…” her partner follows suit.
The title track, meanwhile, is much softer and reflective, shades of sixties psych-folk, particularly in the drumming department. “Behind Every Great Man” keeps the swirling riffs and instrumentation, but takes things to a somewhat darker place, kinda like The Tea Party (the band, not those right-wing d-bags), albeit with a better drummer—and a better singer, too, for that matter. “October” begins with cello and soothing vocals, some French interspersed into the lyrics here as well, though they switch to English by the time the heavy guitar riffs come in. “Birds of a Feather,” by contrast, is heavy from the get-go, containing some slightly faster riffs as well. I think there’s French singing on this one, too, though the vocals don’t come out cleanly over the semi-aggro riff barrage.
“Traitors” starts off with a sweet, semi-whispered vocal, this one being more of a heavy grunge/noise thing, tending a little more towards Unsane—except in the vocal department (though we do get some pretty wild screams from Valentine in the chorus). You almost get the sense that things will get heavier from here. But first we get “The Laws of Suspects,” a two-and-a-half-minute instrumental that borders on stoner rock, sounding like a half-finished Fu Manchu demo or something. Things then slow down again with “Noyade,” which sounds kinda like one of those post-rock bands that Nadja tends to tour with (Picastro really comes to mind here, actually). Not really heavy per se, but certainly dark and sombre, the cello adding a menacing touch.
At nine minutes and change, “The Mountain” is certainly the most epic on tune here. With pounding drums and dirty sludge guitar, Valentine’s voice takes on airs of Lori S, the airy hypnotic cooing hovering over top the swampy stew, with an extended slow-mo drum solo crawling through the mist as well. On the other hand, “Window (Where the Sea Falls Forever)” offers five minutes of upbeat, jangly pop in the vein of the Gin Blossoms—remember them? If you weren’t familiar with Jucifer, you’d hardly know this was the same band from one song to the next. “Fleur de Lis” begins with what almost sounds like a banjo (maybe that’s what a timpani sounds like?), Valentine crooning overtop the down-home instrument in a slightly folksy manner.
“Procession a la Guillotine” brings back the heavy sludge/doom in a manner fitting for an executioner’s march, bearing some of the best slow-mo riffage this record has to offer. We then end on a lighter note with “Coma,” whose circus-like riffing reminds me of Primus’ “Welcome to this World,” though its lyrics aren’t nearly as silly. “The Assembly,” which finally brings the album to a close, is just under two minutes of drone-doom rumblings and French-language whispers. Eerie, really eerie.
Suffice to say that this record is all over the place—albeit in a good way. One of the most diverse, interesting concept albums of the 21st century, if you ask me.