MUSIC: The Raincoats

The Raincoats
The Kitchen Tapes

Glimpsed through the cracked rear views of Courtney Love and Sleater-Kinney, the Raincoats look like the greatest punk band ever. Four goofy granddaughters of Victoria, kidnapped by the ghost of Lily Briscoe and dropped off right in the heart of the smoldering inferno that was post-Pistols London, they scavenged the city's innards and set about retying its Tubes. "Is it love when I see your face on the rails?" bassist Gina Birch sang to an imaginary alienated commuter, her voice charging against a new kind of racket: part spiky-haired English folk, part discomposed pastoral, cut by fiddles and rocked by a drummer (Palmolive) whose clamor proposed the best excuse for beating on things since younger siblings. At their best, the Raincoats transcended (or was it exploited?) an overabundance of technical ineptitude to make the most potent feminist rock 'n' roll of the '70s. And though their music could be as volatile as the Clash's "White Riot," these radicals didn't throw bricks: They refashioned everyday wreckage. Not for nothing was their first single and greatest song called "A Fairytale in the Supermarket."

And it's no fluke either that the recording of one of their more magical concerts is known as The Kitchen Tapes. Recorded in New York in 1982 after their punkest member, Palmolive, had long since left, and the group's music had moved beyond clamor into the eerier side of the English folk equation, the Raincoats sound almost ferociously nutty. "EEEE-ooo/EEE-ooo/EEE-ooo" yelps Birch on the set-opening "No One's Little Girl" in front of Vicky Aspinall's dissonant fiddle pluckings and two drummers who both play like they're auditioning for a dub-reggae gig. "I never shall be in your family tree/Even if you ask me to," she sings, as the song spirals and the music seems light years from any real lineage.

Still, curious Björkists wondering where frigidity's cherub learned to chirp need look no further than Birch. The rest of the set--which is mostly comprised of songs from 1980's Oddyshape and 1982's increasingly pastoral Moving--is performed by people who sound like they're trying to make it out of a cave, the diffuse intensity lending sonic entendre to titles like "Only Loved At Night" and "Puberty Song." And between guitarist Ana Da Silva's untrained noodles on "Honey Mad Woman" and frightening folk "ballads" like "Shouting Out Loud" and "Rainstorm," this was as daft as punk ever got.

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