On a cursory listen it would be easy to dismiss Emma “Scout” Niblettas another PJ Harvey-fixated female singer. Her raw brittle blues is likethe membership card to a Girl Guide group run by Captain Beefheartand Patti Smith. If PJ Harvey is the patrol leader and CatPower the second in command, then Niblett and The Duke Spirit‘s Leila Mossare the new recruits.
When Scout sings “Until then I’ll make my little noise, until thenI’ll makemy fucking noise” on the closing Where Are You, it’s obvious that shewould bekicked out for refusing to swear the oath to play nothing but theblues.Niblett has a free spirit that appears to buck convention and pursue apath thatis hers alone.
Yes there are plaintive blues guitar figures, shrill emotionalvocals and drythumping drum but this is different – this is odd, idiosyncratic anddivorced attimes from the idea of conventional song writing. Niblett has taken herinfluencesand, either by design or through technical limitation, fashioned a uniqueandfascinating record.
Where the Velvet Underground during the Nico period seems to be the template that the vastmajorityof female-fronted indie bands use, Niblett seems to have crossbred 90s grungeand theDIY aesthetic of The Slits and The Raincoats. A one-girl riot act. It’snotsuch an odd hybrid, The Raincoats where one of Kurt Cobain’s favouritebands,he even wrote the sleeve notes for their CD reissues.
Scout Niblett’s vocals can be furtive and flirty, gleeful or crammedwithspite. The lyrics set up a complex dichotomy between her baser feralinstinctsand a coy wide-eyed innocence.
The most successful tracks are those that are tied to her primitivedrummingstyle. Kidnapped By Neptune, Fuck Treasure Island and Valvolive are allanchored to simplistic drum patterns. Hardly rhythm tracks, they’re more a setofclattering repeated motifs that sound like they were hammered out onpapier m�ch� drums. The songs become tribal in nature, the lyricsrepeated likea mantra in short haiku style verses. The guitar playing on thesetracks isscratched out and obtuse. Notes bent, chords chopped, the rhythmreplacingmelody at the centre of the songs. The drums and voice floating in thevoiddetached from instrumentation. A kind of bleached out indie dub withoutbaselines.
On Lullaby For Scout In Ten Years the stumbling drums and bouncingPixies-bass drop out of the mix, the melody is carved out in a tinny guitarline. Andthen at around three minutes in you get full Steve Albini magic.Crunching,distorted guitars drums that drill like a headache and blistering tornvocalchords.
Albini’s trademark production brings a fragile dry intensity to thematerial. The guitars are crisply and cleanly recorded the vocalsunclutteredand clear. The production compliments Niblett’s fragile musical skills.
It doesn’t all succeed. Where Scout’s muse has been shoehorned intomoreconventional song structures the results are disappointing. It seems tobe acase of: get your riffs out for the lads. These are misguided attempts to rockout. Thesludge fest of Good For Me and the stupid riff-heavy Handsome comeacross likethird place entries in a local bands competition.
When given free rein and when she’s playing to her strengths this record is adelight.It even contains an Albini-produced piano ballad. This City is thesound ofEric Satie on Temazepam. Enjoy.