I Name You Destroyer
By: Eric Greenwood
Jucifer's Melvins-style sludge rock has evolved into a slicker, more melodic beast since I saw them live a few years ago. To compensate for being a drums and guitar duo, the band cranks the volume to an ear-splitting level, so that it sounds like an army of musicians is on stage. Ed Livengood and Amber Valentine yield an aggressive dynamic when they play live, which extends into the bedroom as well, apparently. They're like the Royal Trux's southern gothic cousins. Valentine's thrift-store '50's pin-up vamp look adds a bit of gimmicky glamour to the proceedings, while Livengood plays the sick and skinny boyfriend clad in black part to a tee. And he can play the drums like a maniac too.
On paper the "Portishead meets Black Sabbath" descriptor seems about as appealing as onions on a Ho-Ho, but Jucifer repeatedly defies my expectations for its recorded output. Creepy melodies float above the hackneyed Black Sabbath riffs sure enough, although, I would stop far short of using Portishead as a reference. It's undeniably catchy but still slightly kitsch. Valentine's singing voice is a thin, whispery instrument, but her scream, on the other hand, could curdle blood. My throat aches vicariously when I hear it. Not much could be left of her vocal cords at the end of a tour, but the Jeckyll and Hyde-style schizophrenia does add some meat and mystery to the music.
The organ-drenched swirl of "Little Fever" recalls a lighter version of mid-1990's noise-rock luminaries the Pain Teens with its high-pitched, girlish vocals over top trudging drums and distorted bass. The effect is hypnotic and expectedly dark and brooding. The infectious pop sensibility of "Amplifier" reveals that Jucifer has come into its own on the songwriting front. It's not just about noise and showmanship anymore. The band has songs now too. Mixing a Cramps-inspired garage rock machismo with a danceable beat "Amplifier" covers all the requisite bases for what constitutes a memorable tune. You can sense the band's love of trash culture and obscure vinyl with every note.
By "Pinned In Glass" the Jucifer of yore is back. The thick, rumbling, low-end guitar exercises the Livengood's acrobatic drumming skills. Valentine's voice sounds so innocent as it works through the maelstrom of rock surrounding it. It's not quite as cloying as Juliana Hatfield's voice, but it has a similarly sexual deviance about it. "Queen B" is no holds barred sludge metal with some 1970's riffs thrown in. Valentine does her best impression of Lemme from Motorhead in the verse while playing it coy in the chorus. It's kind of disconcerting, but it works. Keeping things upbeat, though less aggressive, is another pop confection, "When She Goes Out." The hooky, repetitive guitar riff bounces off a retro, Manchester dance beat with Valentine's soothing voice in tow.
The album's finest moment, "Memphis", comes in the unlikely form of a piano-ballad-cum-industrial-showdown, featuring Valentine's best vocal performance. I could actually envision Jucifer as a commercial act with more songs like this. There is no real reference point for it in the band's catalogue, and it sticks out like a sore thumb here. But it's a sore thumb any band would want to have. The daunting piano line is quickly accompanied by a 4/4 dance beat, but the wall of noise that kicks in is hard to describe; it's so overwhelmingly thick. I know this is going to sound strange, but imagine if Garbage wrote a decent song with pockets of blasting noise in the chorus. That's what "Memphis" sounds like, and it's an awesome song.
What's most impressive about I Name You Destroyer is Jucifer's newfound versatility. Having far outgrown the one-trick pony tag, the duo has embraced its diverse influences and worked them all into their sound without losing any focus or intensity. Just in terms of the instrumentation, though, Jucifer's sound has expanded, as it incorporates, strings, noise, and keyboards into its core unit. I imagine the current live show still leans heavily on the more rocking numbers since the band refuses to play with extra musicians on stage or in the studio, and some of these songs would be difficult to reproduce live with only two people. But if it only takes two to make an album this good, then to hell with the idea of expanding the line-up. I Name You Destroyer is damn fine the way it is.