The description of some albums just raise an eyebrow. And, if you’re like me, perhaps raise your interest. I’d never heard of American sludge-metal wife-and-husband Jucifer before someone mentioned L’Autrichienne to me as a recommendation a week or so back. Such a band doing a sprawling 21-song epic concept album about Marie Antoinette? Ok, count me in.
Iif you’re not like me, maybe such a description would turn you off listening to such an album. And, if so, you’d be missing out on one of the most interesting, exciting, diverse rock albums I’ve heard since, well, since Maximum the Hormone’s Yoshu Fukushu.
The shear range of music on display here is mind boggling and ear bending. It’s all “rock” of some variety, but then the Soundgarden-esque riffing of the opening track ‘Blackpowder’ ends only to throw the listener into screamed ultra-fast hardcore punk of ‘Thermidor’, which just thirty seconds later warps into the gorgeous, melancholic trance of ‘To The Earth’. And that song ends with the sound of a dropped drum stick; an idiosyncratic touch of as-live-as recording that just makes the album more fascinating.
Because, throughout these 21 songs, Jucifer never sits still, and hurls a wide range of rock, metal and punk at the listener, but all done with a stripped back, rawness that reminds that this band really is just a two-piece – drummer (and sometimes bassist) Edgar Livengood, and Amber Valentine, who can treat her guitar like a beast or a beauty, as well as possessing one of the most flexible voices I’ve heard utilised on a rock metal.
One minute Valentine will be screaming out incomprehensible roars over a violent thrash, next she’ll be crooning over a single strummed electric guitar like she was Kristen Hersh. While singing in French. Other times Valentine will be roaring along with some slow doom metal, only for the next track to showcase her transcending scales, adding an edge, becoming reminiscent of 1990s PJ Harvey or Courtney Love.
To keep up the 1990s women-in-alt-rock theme, there’s ‘Armada’, which features a thumped kick drum, a lurching fuzzed guitar, and a lazy, multi-tracked vocal, closely harmonising with the guitar. It could be off The Breeders ‘Last Splash’.
Yes, it is a concept album, but the smart, interesting lyrics do nothing but further fascinate. ‘Armada’, that fuzzed out Breeders-like song, features the hook line “to smash your arrogance on The Rock of Gibraltar.” And, as the album leads us from Marie Antoinette being the glamorous, desirable centre of the French court, through war and revolution, to capture and eventually execution, words and tales can be made out that keep drawing the listener back in, to find out more.
And, sometimes, they trick us. My favourite song on the album is ‘Window (Where The Sea Falls Forever)’. It starts out with a spiky, snotty grunge rock (hi, Juliana Hatfield?) where Antoinette is spits at herself with disgust, for not seeing the signs of revolution, and also for not doing enough to defend herself and her position.
But then ‘Window’ changes, the guitar becoming shrill and Valentine alters her voice, sliding into a husky high register, singing sweetly. The words “beyond the kingdom and the love of mankind I am gone, to the edge of the earth beyond” are heard. Is this regret, is this Antoinette feeling guilt or seeking redemption before her execution.
Oh, no. Because then the words in the sweetly sung, closely-harmonised chorus reveal themselves. “Beyond, beyond there’s another world waiting to be lead, beyond, beyond I’ll have everything again.” Antoinette doesn’t regret a thing; her sadness is for the foolish people who decided to stop worshiping her.
And it’s smart musical and lyrical juxtapositions like that, the huge range of rock music on show here, and the huge wall of sound this band create even in their quietest moments that have made L’Autrichienne a quick favourite. Worth checking out – it can be obtained easily from Jucifer’s Bandcamp page.
Beer match: This album is big, fun, and very interesting. And, yet, it’s a direct and straightforward rock album, mostly just guitar, drums and voice. Is there a style of beer that is “rock music”? Probably pale ales or IPAs. But, this album deserves something a bit more interest. Something that stands up well as a great example of the style. So, my recommendation for this would be Parrotdog’s recently released ‘Jurassic Pale Ale’, a hoppy pale ale that carries both sweetness and fruity hops superbly into one of the best of the style I’ve tasted. And it’s got dinosaurs.