Joana and the Wolf - Natural Born Killer

Martin Goodhead 01/06/2009

Rating: 3/5

Let's be clear; there are few things as exciting or interesting in rock as the female lead. Subverting 'phallocentrism', rocking the gender ambivalence or just loosing forth that frisson of a scratchy powerful moan, nothing subverts the literalist hoary symbolism of the trouser-snake cocky front-man as the latent power of a girl in past and present mythology. From Janis Joplin's charisma, to P. Harvey's delta-blues cum chamber/ rock/pianist/siren /murder ballad polysemity, Justine Frishmann's irony to the Howling Belles's nu-gaze swirl modern rock and Bat For Lashes post-Kate Bush glittery-glamorous weirdness, it can be electric. Call this gender exclusive; it is- the curse and blessing of the mystique.

Joana ( presumably not the Wolf so much, being a chap) wants to be part of this--you can see that in the whole 'wildness-counter discourse' iconography, that playful self-conscious feral dusk-and purple book fuelled reinvention like an Angela Carter short story, right down to the 'wolf' motif. Not Marianne, a crackled angel, nor Liz Phair's filthy but gleaming 'anti-guyville,' Jo wants to be--Polly Jean with added fur.

I want to adore that polysemic figure conjured in those sound-waves--to be aural putty between her fingers. Then look at the cover's scrawl, the naked mother nature wild bracken pastel art and she knows her sign-play but you're slightly ambivalent-she's trafficking in the kind of Julia Kristeva repulsion theories great in ink and pixel but ignore the bi-sexual seduction at rock's heart; a wimmin rather than PJ's sexy scorned swamp sprites and murderess-poet sylphs.

Polly- when she adopts Her guises on 'Rid of Me' and 'To Bring you My Love', is from her album sleeve onwards, the kind of tantalising and tragic myth-maker equivalent to Nick Cave's dramatic personae; Joana comes on as too much wild berry hemp-tight 'period-painting' whimsy.

Then you listen and for a minute, amidst the familiar surrounding pro-primitive blues churn, she could be a Karen O meets Katy Jane Gardside, punctured by cloud-burst sweet feedback trebs and power E chords, but with a flagrant unhinged will to her vocals. Self certain even as the self collapses around her-she's making art from the pieces, from chameleon's blood.

'Natural Born Killer' has vibrato spread over with fretboard trembling and stabbing in like falls through lysergic wishing wells in-we're not sure, since vocalist has a faintly Slavic tinge to her vowels which could be the old-time speech or a sign opf distant lands beyond the Karpats or any number of soft unsettling suggestions of lands where those wolves still roam. Then into a crescendo of near Spanish flamenco dancing string punches at its coda. Unfortunate then, that the groove's otherwise so leaden with familiarity, having been revived twice already in the same key by dim-lit inn-singers in loose-cobweb combos and whisky-stained lips. A sound with the twitches of singularities that eventually succumbs under the first-clear spot-light as it leads you towards its chambers, to a fibrulous timidry, stutters and utters memorized verses you can't match to those burning eyes.

As for B -side 'Demon Eyes', the PJ comparisons are only confirmed- Joanna's repertoire now including 'White Chalk', even down to the underworld-referencing lead-in title, soloising through Victorian-era clock-work-box powered four tracks with that mock naïf, piano key colliding, native wit effect. Concept triumphs composition. You can almost picture the white-smock ruffle dress and bare feet on the first few notes, so it's a shame the chords exude ideas with the animation of a tableau wax-work, and are only a third so chilling.

Release date: 01/06/09