By: Eric Greenwood
To say that The Sisterhood Of Convoluted Thinkers' music is unconventional doesn't even begin to cover it. Underneath all the weirdness you can hear Rob Christiansen's indie rock roots. He played with Mark Robinson and Jenny Toomey in Grenadine and was the trombone player in Eggs in the early 1990's. The Sisterhood Of Convoluted Thinkers (comprised of Christiansen and his wife Jeannine) toys with the structure of Western pop music. Christiansen and Jeannine soaked up loads of Asian culture teaching English in Japan for the past two years, and the influence is undeniable throughout these ten tracks. With quirky electronic noises and acoustic instruments, the duo creates an unique sonic palette- the origins of which are difficult to discern.
Sometimes the insular weirdness overshadows the songs themselves, but silly yet clever lyrics intertwined with snippets of matching melody are never far off. Jeannine's voice is small and extremely feminine, and it blends well with Christiansen's minor strain. Listening to Ume Sour all the way through is somewhat baffling, though. The transitions between songs are often smoother than changes within particular songs. "Ami-chan, Mai-chan" exploits Jeannine's very Japanese sounding voice. Backed by what sounds like a toy casio, a tinny, programmed beat, and a bass line playing only root notes, Jeannine coos a Gaijin story- her voice multi-tracked to sound even stranger. The explosive, noisy interlude toward the end is invasive and unexpected but only a minor interruption.
"Ne-ne Ami-chan" kicks off with a Pixies-style bass line and a catchy "dododo dododo" duet. The rest of the song veers off into wacky experimentation, complete with shrill guitar noises, dissonant voice/bass interplay, and silly, nonsensical lyrics: "please, please eat up your peas/possum's gonna fall from the trees/candy's gonna dance on the dish/ferry's gonna grant you one wish." "Lunchdate" is as straightforward as things get. Perky electronic noises fluctuate around a stable groove. Christiansen's choirboy inflection accompanied by his wife's distant murmuring is accessible enough to sing along with. Even the scatterbrained changes adhere to the main riff. On the other hand, "Song For Tony And Ian" collapses under the weight of its own pretentiousness. Dull melody, superfluous sound effects, and meandering structure drag this ballad into willful obscurity.
This album plays like a diary of the couple's experiences over the past year in Japan, but as is the case with most diaries- bits of it could have been left out ("Nen-Ga-Joo", for example). Granted, these bits are few and far between, but there are times when the license to experiment expires and the excess starts to undermine the progress. "Tottori Made" is not part of the excess, however. This twangy gem fuses clashing cultures and styles without regard for the consequences. Luckily, the result is endearing. Part American country, part indie rock, and part Japanese pop, "Tottari Made" is a duet the likes of which you've not heard before. Joining indie rock with an electronic backbone may not be original, but "Yakusoku (A Promise)" doesn't sound like the typical fusion of those genres. Christiansen adopts a fey inflection, which builds into a punkish growl as the song gains steam. From the overdriven chorus of back-up singers to the catchy, one-line keyboard melody, to Christiansen's hurried delivery, the song rocks without any real rocking instruments to support it.
Apart from the overall trendiness of anything Japanese in indie rock circles these days, The Sisterhood Of Convoluted Thinkers avoids any real musical bandwagoning. Sure, the ingredients in and of themselves are common enough (electronics, drum machines, acoustic guitars, sound effects, silly lyrics), but what this duo does with them is truly in a category all by itself. The only real question is whether Christiansen takes some of his loopier antics too far, which I've already recognized he does do, occasionally. Thematically and musically, though, this album bears little resemblance to anything dumped under the increasingly meaningless umbrella of 'indie rock.' So, if you want to hear the eccentricities of a couple interpreting their life in Japan through bizarro pop, then don't miss this record, drawbacks and all.