Ask the average person on the street and they’ll probably say they have a favorite band. For me, this is almost impossible—the variables of taste shift far too frequently. But, somewhere deep amongst the crud and wobbly stuff inside me, I keep a little crystallized shard that says ALWAYS LOVE U. In that shard, four words: Nero’s Day At Disneyland.
To listen to an album by Lauren Bousfield is to hear a symphony deconstructed, chopped into bits and reconstructed into cartoon devils that wheeze and lurch, yet somehow never lose their sense of beauty. Bousfield’s early work drifted wonderfully close to punk, her debut LP Attention Shoppers essentially an ADD-addled extension of her other collaborative project Strip Mall Seizures. Future work would abandon the spastic vocals to explore more symphonic and experimental compositions, though they never lost that mutant edge to them. Her latest work Avalon Vales, is perhaps her most realized. It’s certainly her most beautiful.
What makes NDAD so captivating is how Bousfield reconceptualizes the way you might think to listen to songs. When you imagine a choir, you think of them as the focal point, the chorus. Bousfield turns them into the instrumental, and gives the whirling, shrill synths and breakbeats the true voice of the song. Avalon Vales once again showcases her deft manipulation of chamber music samples and the chaotic catchiness of her original structures, as well as (for the first time since her debut) her sensual-yet-innocent vocals. The result is the very definition of angelic: a beautiful mystery, asexual and frightening and holy.
About six years ago, I was in a synthpunk band. You don’t need the name; we weren’t big. We were named after a Virgin Prunes song, for god’s sake. Still, I had the pleasure of playing with a lot of cool bands, including New Thrill Parade (pre-Water Borders), Sixteens, and SWFT WNGS (now Bestial Mouths): bands few music journalists would touch back then, now dark darlings ov thee bloglands. We even got to play the infamous SanFran leather club The Eagle, which for a Midwest kid is pretty amazing. Our finest moment, however, was playing with Strip Mall Seizures in a big punk house in Oakland. The following is a written excerpt from my tour diary, dated 2007:
White Slave Trade show had gang violence; six shots fired not ten feet away from us, twelve more after we ran inside. No deaths! Listened to Snoop Dogg after, felt like a shrimpy sissy.
Got to Oakland around 1:30pm, venue turned out to be this huge, awesome house full of anarcho crusties. Rode bikes with a photography kid to get amazing burgers. Dug a hole with someone who turned out to be from Coughs and played with big dogs in the dirt. Met Judy, Brock and Matt from Strip Mall Seizures, who are all amazingly nice people and ultra-cool. Coughs guy played noise in the hole as Carezza for five minutes; which made me happy and excited. We played a good show, with slime and eggs and bunny ears and a water cooler. The synths sounded mad chunky. George, who played with Marfa and Ne-af in Prague showed up randomly, didn’t know we were gonna be there. Long talk with Brock. He complimented my Poison Girls shirt and turned me on to Frog Pocket. Ate an oyster from a bonfire, bounced on a huge trampoline with dogs and made freestyle raps. Strip Mall Seizures played. Best show ever. So good. Sentence fragments; just phrases. Justin ran over my foot as we left to get food.
When I hear Avalon Vales, I’m transported back to that house, vibrating with the pounding crash of synthesizers, but now it’s the grown-up version. Through chopped-and-screwed angelic choirs and disconcerting piano ballads that pass like a fever-dream, Bousfield leads us through something wholly unique, leaping in and out of genres while never crossing into incoherence. Even the album’s occasional moments of heavy brutality (the demented synthcore of ‘Cracknight’ or the grand finale ‘Our Trauma’) feel regal, a higher class of violence than the screaming hatred of her Kevin Shields collaboration ‘Death Parade’. Like Crass (and very few bands after them) this isn’t punk with a uniform or a formula. This is grown-up punk music, the same rebellion and queerness and freak-power attitude that we all wanted to express, but done in a way that shows not just a maturing spiritual growth, but a maturing production value as well, though it remains just as DIY as ever. Lauren’s vision of the world carries all the hyper entropy of the one we inhabit every day. But it’s the ecstasy you’ll remember after.