Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MARCH 16, 1998: 

Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle (Righteous Babe)

In which this rainbow dread-locked, gender-bending angry folkie with her own record label goes slumming as (of all things!) a bona fide popster, with a B-52 bouffant and an actual sense of fun. (She’s kept the nose ring and army boots.) This time around, her aggressive acoustic sound often sports an added electric layering and an element of musical playfulness that is more prominent than ever before. Her pet themes of alienation and disillusionment still dominate, but DiFranco seems to have become a bit more philosophical about the big picture. As she sings in “Gravel,” a wonderful rock romp: “You can keep me from ever being happy, but you’re not going to stop me from having fun.”

Like Michelle Shocked before her, DiFranco has steadfastly refused to be a poster child for any particular subculture, be it alternative folk singers, androgynous sexual beings, riot grrrls, or whatever. Although her work is introspective, what sets her apart is the fact that she’s as hard on herself as she is with everyone else. The result, though not always pretty, is always entertaining. Whether she’s taking a jab at Marilyn Manson’s theatrics (“Pixie”) or lamenting the junkie decline of an ex-lover (“Two Little Girls”), DiFranco always keeps her sense of humor intact and her insights razor-sharp.

Fun-slumming Ani DiFranco
Little Plastic Castle is a concept album of sorts, chronicling the monstrosity of media manipulation and the damage it inflicts on self-perception. References to the media as a glowering beast, constantly distorting and imbuing with significance every move she makes, abound. As she writes in the excellent title cut: “People talk about my image/Like I come in two dimensions/Like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind/Like what I happen to be wearing the day someone takes my picture is a statement for all womankind.” From a slow acoustic beginning, this song erupts into a joyful ska rollercoaster of a ride. Her poetic rants are still here (“Fuel”) as well as her delicate anti-love songs (“As Is”). But several tracks have a richer sound that give her shrewd and sometimes lubricous lyrics an added dimension, like “Glass House,” with its wah-wah intro and ’70s rock feel, “Deep Dish,” a slightly manic ska number, and the jazzy, hypnotic closing track – certainly not your typical DiFranco fare. The latter piece, a lovely song titled “Pulse,” features a vulnerable soliloquy with mesmerizing incantations and a muted trumpet and concertina, and is probably the closest thing to a love song that this cynic’s cynic has ever written.

Little Plastic Castle shows Ani DiFranco in a relaxed and experimental mood, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to file this under “Easy Listening,” it’s still very much a distinct musical treasure. – Lisa Lumb

Bumrush, Bumrush (Self-released)

This was a pleasant surprise. A welcome new addition to the local landscape, Bumrush is a power trio whose self-released, eponymously titled debut is startlingly assured. Fortunately, they’re not as consumed by the loud/angry aesthetic as their name and cover art might suggest, or as we’ve come to expect from young white males in the post-hip-hop, post-punk music world. (Young black males, of course, have their own forms of antisocial expression.)

Though they still fit into the paradigm of “modern rock,” Bumrush seem to be pushing at the boundaries of the genre in interesting ways, even on album one. Unlike most of the American alterna-types who’ve risen up since the day Nirvana died, their guitars are more jagged and brittle than turgid, as much Gang of Four as Bush. (Unfortunately, the vocals too often lapse into the kind of histrionics Eddie Vedder has made an alt-rock staple.)

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