Pretty Solid Senders

Matt Belz and Christy Hunt of Ouija Radio
Darin Back

Ouija Radio
Oh No...Yes! Yes!
Crustacean Records

Christy Hunt is the frontwoman of Minneapolis trio Ouija Radio, which means that sometimes she helms a monstrously catchy thrash-rock band, and sometimes she leads a quirky piano-pop group. When listening to their latest release, Oh No...Yes! Yes!, I imagine Hunt's hand reaching out to operate a switch on a ghostly radio, modulating the sound of her band between an FM version of Ouija Radio—competent, instantly understandable, hit-making—and an AM version of the group—eclectic, unexpected, and occasionally overreaching. Over the FM bandwidth, the Ouija Radio sound is a speed-racing power-punk engine driven by drummer Charles Gehr's inventive percussion. Hunt's voice is a throaty, soaring wail with muscle enough to stand up to the funhouse frenzy of her guitar playing. But for their AM sound, the powerful rhythm section recedes into the background while Hunt's effects-warped vocals share the spotlight with a variety of synthesizer melodies.

It's the crowd-pleasing FM version of the band that opens the set for Friday night's CD-release party. Hunt takes the Turf Club stage draped in sweet pink formal wear and dripping in sparkly faux diamonds, her blond hair in an updo, her shoulders bare, and her tattoos exposed, like Bubblegum Axewoman Barbie. Mirroring each other onstage, Hunt and nimble-fingered bassist Matt "Helz" Belz feed off each other's charisma, leaning in, then leaning back again as the tempo increases and the energy accelerates to watch-out!-the-kids-are-about-to-puke merry-go-round levels. The two could easily pocket the gold in any Pairs Thrashing competition, Guitar/Bass Division. In the songs "Devil and the Witch," "Secret Garden," and "Cookie," Hunt belts out goth-tastic lyrics like "The hour of the witch is on the rise" and grinds out bright riffs while the crowd dances and head-bobs along.

But eventually Hunt decides that it's time to change the frequency over to AM. She puts down her guitar and gets behind a synthesizer. Here, melody and emotion are more important than propulsive rhythm, and Hunt's singing voice bears responsibility for carrying the songs forward when the pace threatens to become dark and plodding. These numbers are not necessarily less interesting than Ouija FM, but they are far less unified. On the album, Hunt indulges her curiosity by experimenting with weird electric pianos and dreamy carnival organs, but she can still lay a guitar track over the top of them. Onstage, without a separate keyboardist (they've been a three-piece since Sarah Huska left the band), Hunt must forfeit the guitar. The best of these songs is the charming, toe-tapping "Today Is Our Last Tomorrow," although "Spinning Cyclone Death Machine" wins extra points for providing a counterpoint to the popular—and mistaken—societal belief that the American people should trust their spinning cyclone death machines with decision-making autonomy. This is an AM dial populated, like the real one, with one-offs; fortunately, Ouija Radio can toggle back and forth between frequencies.

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