The Calcination of Scout Niblett

This far into her career, the work produced by England's Scout Niblett has become synonymous with the genre of stripped-down grrl rock put forth by PJ Harvey and Cat Power. For the most part, it's been an apt comparison; there's definitely a lonesome, searching sound and melancholy feeling pervading her work.  

Chicago soundman Steve Albini has helmed most of Niblett's recordings and with this release he and the songstress have succeeded in steering her work into the darkest, emptiest and most personal recesses it has touched upon yet. Most of the album's songs consist of little more than electric guitar and vocals — drums are used sparingly, bass even less — and an extraordinarily stark, visceral and haunting soundscape is thus created. Whether finger-picking through a subdued chord progression or cutting loose a stream of frenetic feedback, all sounds evoke an encroaching darkness.  

With such a spare palette, Niblett concentrates on quiet/loud, clean/sludgy dynamics; songs like "Just Do It!" and "Cherry Cheek Bomb" are introduced with a squall of noise, settle into a restrained rhythm for the verses, and then bloom up again in emotional punctuation to the lyrics.  The latter track also features one of the most violent, frenzied codas ever written. As with most Albini-produced music, the on-tape punch of the instrumentation is pretty epic: The pile-driving drums on the title track are only unleashed after Niblett has lulled the listener coyly into her own territory. It's brutal. And it's a sound all her own.

Thursday, March 18, at PJ's Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668. With Kelly Jean Caldwell.

Aaron Shaul writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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