Having cut her teeth in Million Dead before finding herself as the bassist in Future Of The Left, Julia Ruzicka’s last 15 years have been nothing if not eventful. Her latest project, This Becomes Us, doesn’t bear her name as a solo project; instead she’s created an album of collaborations with the people she’s met in her time as a musician. Not only does the project not bear her name, but she’s also employed a different vocalist for each track. It’s a peculiar move because most side projects tend to be creative outlets for an artist to express themselves more openly and freely, but it would appear that the only stamp Ruzicka felt the need to put on this collection of songs is that of her thunderous bass playing.
The result is an album that pulls in multiple directions. This Becomes Us is being hailed as very much a Ruzicka project, but inevitably, the focus drifts away from her bass playing and towards the guest vocalists for each track. Similarly, many of these songs have been written to suit the guest vocalist, which means that the album not only fails to shed any real light on Ruzicka herself beyond her capacity to write for others, but it also lacks a clear and consistent voice.
It does make some kind of sense if approached as a kind of compilation album however. This is a collection of wiry and abrasive songs that bend willingly; each according to their guest. Opening track The Picture Of Delorean Grey make sure that Ruzicka’s Future Of The Left pedigree is front and centre. Its clever word play and cultural reference points are tangled in raucous bass lines, fizzing punk guitars and insistent drums (it’s no surprise to find FOTL’s Jack Eggleston is the powerhouse behind the kit). It turns out that guest vocalist Damien Sayell does a pretty good Andy Falkous too. There are very few direct nods to FOTL or Mclusky on the album though, with the possible exception of A Gift That Nobody wants, which possesses a guitar lick straight from Mclusky Does Dallas.
So far so familiar, but things quickly take a turn into different territory. Painter Man Is Coming takes the album in a more Pixies direction – something that is entirely unsurprising because that’s Black Francis lending his dulcet tones. To Ruzicka’s credit the song drifts from that angular Pixies pop sound and into darker, more wistful post-punk territory. It’s as if they’ve gatecrashed Debaser, made off with Frank Black and dropped him off at Ian Curtis’ place. Also sounding as if it’s been spat out of Factory Records in the early ’80s is Undervalue Love. Guy McKnight from The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster provides vocals this time around, and a suitable gothic fug descends, Ruzicka’s bass providing a suitably wiry and sturdy presence throughout.
If the post-punk influence is a little too buttoned down and precise, then fear not, there’s a fair amount of freewheeling noise too. At The End Of Everyday is one such example where shiny scratchy guitars combine with an unhinged vocal from The Wytches’ Kristian Bell to create something genuinely unnerving. The exploratory passages of noise sound unhinged, unrehearsed and positively feral. It’s this incarnation of the band that sounds most inspired and vibrant.
Elsewhere Simple Too is a short blast of punk vigour that comes off like Huggy Bear covering Skunk Anansie, and Sassessa boils everything down to a short stabbing riff (admittedly there’s another nod to FOTL again). It’s fair to say that there’s plenty of variety on offer across the album, not just from the vocalist’s approach but the styles adopted by the band too. It’s never anything but interesting, but that lack of direction makes it hard to get a real grip on the This Becomes Us as a whole. A coming together of influences and life history can be a powerful thing, and whilst there’s power on the album, the lack of focus means that it is dissipated. When harnessed fully, This Becomes Us will kick holes in walls.