Many of us are in search of duende, whether we know it or not. This internal, “spirit of evocation” is the ultimate aspiration for both creator and witness. When music makes us feel a communion with something higher than ourselves, we “get out of our own way” and we forget who we are. Or maybe we remember who we really are.
“Get out of my own way” is what KatieJane Garside says she seeks to do. Liar, Flower is her new project with partner, collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Chris Whittingham. This is their “reincarnation” of the folk-influenced Ruby Throat and this time they are “ready to make some noise”.
Garside’s history speaks for itself. The facts that she has been venerated by Courtney Love and was courted for Madonna’s label, and that she created history with bands including Daisy Chainsaw, Test Dept and Queenadreena, can be taken or left in the face of Geiger Counter, which speaks with such calmly forceful conviction that it demands all preconceptions be dropped.
This record is magical. Garside says “I use so many words to say ‘I will not speak’”. As I am reading back this last sentence I realise that I am participating in the idea being alluded to here. She doesn’t even need words sometimes. I enquired about a translation of the non-English introduction to the first song “I am Sundress (She of Infinite Flowers)”, and the response I received indirectly from Garside was that “this is an essentially unknowable language from ‘my’ unconsciousness...no translation available”. This gets to the heart of why the whole album is so wonderful and why this review is so difficult to write. It seems churlish to talk about the technicalities of something so pure and direct. “No translation is available.”
Nevertheless. The music really flows. It effortlessly navigates myriad styles (from pastoral autoharp folk to punishingly abrasive punk) and in stepping forth never puts so much as a little toe wrong. Even the dissonance is somehow perfectly placed - welcome. The songs seem designed to both soothe and energise, from the tempos to the lush yet raw production. It transfers a certain kind of empowerment - terrifying yet comforting, like a freezing cold night in an empty forest. With an insane house party just around the corner. And screaming. Lots of screaming.
The primal-scream-of-consciousness lyrics bridge the gap between dry-humoured musings on the everyday (“I was in a band called where’s my fucking phone”) and far-reaching spiritual proclamations (“daughter of nebula sing with me / cos I’m already sky / cos I’m already sky”). We are the “housefly called God” (thanks, Nick Cave) on the wall of KatieJane Garside’ soul. She is also God and she is also the housefly. She screams, she moans, and she whispers. She lulls us to sleep, safe in the arms of her all-powerful voice. “My Brain Is An Airport” is New York noise rock , all scuzzy bass and growling guitars. “9N-AFE” sounds like Jarboe via the Cocteau Twins. The Western-soundtrack guitars on “Blood Berries” just hang there, pregnant with violence, swelling but never bursting. The smouldering “Little Brown Shoe” seems to always be slowing down, but finishes at the exact same pace it began. There is no “genre” here. The sounds are a mere vehicle to communicate unknowing universal truth.
Album closer “Door’s Locked, Oven’s Off” grounds us. Garside’s desperate bleating has faded away to silence. This is folk guitar and dissonance as an embodiment of worry and reassurance - the cyclical and ever-unquenched thirst for closure. It is human nature shutting its eye to the force of nature. Locking the door. Saying goodbye. Saying hello again to “reality”, whatever that is.
Geiger Counter is as close to the true essence of art as anything you’ll witness. When I stepped off this ride I felt physically lighter. Cleansed. I found myself uttering these words out loud to nobody: “I need more”. More of this feeling. This duende.
Geiger Counter is available now on One Little Indian Records to pre-order as a special package (limited to 500 copies) with a release date of 8th June 2020.