Jesse Sykes &
the Sweet Hereafter
Like, Love, Lust & the
Open Halls of the Soul
Woke Myself Up
Now that Chan Marshall of Cat Power has made a Memphis soul record, covered Blondie for a Cingular spot, and scored a gig as the face of Chanel jewelry, indie rock needs someone to fill Marshall's old position as Difficult Art-Folk Lady—someone capable of strumming her pain with her fingers without sounding like Norah Jones.
Jesse Sykes seems up for the job: She's a Seattle-based singer-songwriter who looks like a Trenchcoat Mafioso and rasps like a career smoker; it's no surprise that the doom-obsessed metalheads in SunnO))) recently hired her to lend vocals to their collaboration with Japanese sludge specialists Boris. On 2004's Oh, My Girl, Sykes bemoaned (celebrated?) "all the world's fuckery" over ex-Whiskeytown guy Phil Wandscher's spidery guitars; the result, like Cat Power's Moon Pix, reflected in unsettlingly intimate detail the interior tumult of a troubled mind. As its overstuffed title implies, Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul is a somewhat more expansive affair: Here, the Sweet Hereafter includes violinist Eyvid Kang, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, Swedish folk-pop hunk Nicolai Dunger, and producer Tucker Martine, all of whom flesh out Sykes's songs with loads of eerie Twin Peaks atmosphere, as in "How Will We Know?" where the drums could be a body bag rolling down a rickety wooden staircase.
In a weird way, though, the relatively lush chamber-blues sonics don't seem to offer Sykes much protection from the demons she writes about (quite literally in "Spectral Beings"); the more sound she surrounds herself with, the more muted desperation creeps into her voice. Sykes actually addresses the issue in "I Like the Sound," where bubbly '60s-pop ba-ba-bas fail to persuade her not to take a ride on what a dozen careful listens have convinced me is a "shit canal."
A former member of Canadian psych-pop outfit Eric's Trip, Julie Doiron tackles somewhat less significant problems on her latest album, Woke Myself Up: "Maybe this coffee is a bad idea," she worries in the title track. Though she issued her earliest solo material under the name Broken Girl, Doiron now writes from a place of psychological stability; unlike Sykes's accounts of ruined love, many of Doiron's songs function as testaments to the possibility of domestic satisfaction. "Your kids love you most," she sings in "Yer Kids," while in "I Left Town" she describes driving through a nighttime snowstorm and finding calm in the thought that "I'll soon be sleeping in your arms."
Yet Woke Myself Up doesn't sound as contented as it should; Doiron plays guitar like she's got the (non-caffeine-fueled) jitters and favors the sort of lo-fi home-recording vibe we've come to associate with the heartbroken ramblings of tortured bedroom troubadours. Throughout Woke Myself Up she interrupts folky acoustic strumming with shards of ugly noise, as though a band practicing in the garage were trying to drown her out in the kitchen. For all I know, that's just Doiron reminding herself that she isn't as old as she fears. But it's hard not to hear it as a comment on the complications of family life—especially when she admits in the untitled closer, "my life, it's a lie."