It’s always good to see someone own a performance. Even if you’re not particularly into the specific thing being owned, to see or hear someone be overcome by the thing inside them is a treat. Even if the thing expressed is totally genuine, any performance that reaches a certain energy level, a certain degree of earnestness, becomes theater. It’s interesting to watch this happen musically, because more often than not listeners walk unknowing into music with theatrical elements.
The Brooklyn sextet Effi Briest makes elegant, slithering, voodoo’d-out jungle punk. Initially, it may be hard to understand why their take on this (how many other takes are there) is so effective, but its clear that the quality and consistency of their performance pushes their presence on record into the realm of theater. If that sounds hokey to you, figure out how it would be possible to make “voodoo’d-out jungle punk” without putting it a little bit over the top; then get back to me.
A large portion of the success of Effi Briest’s debut full-length, Rhizomes, has to be given to the vocal prowess of the group’s lead singer, Kelsey Barrett. Barrett sings with a highly percussive, energetic yelp that suggests dread and esoteric knowledge. Barrett, however, doesn’t carry the weight alone; the other five women of the band traffic in rhythmically intensive, psychoactive instrumentation that lays the foundation for the seductive, spooky experience found in Rhizomes.
A lot of rock bands put on despondency, or boredom, or extreme dissatisfaction as musical personas, and that’s generally just as successful a strategy as a performance that requires a little more commitment. Indeed, a great deal of the time even bands that do theatricality well fall prey to the risk and end up appearing silly, but Effi Briest and Rhizomes are good reminders that, while it can feel foolish, the decision to inhabit something strange and otherworldly can pay dividends. You just have to make sure you live in it, not across the street.