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Understanding Carla Bozulich

I can arrange to unscrew your fucking heart and let it see past the confines of your bloody finite chest for a while if that’s what you want.

The voice: An instrument of rich, sensual, creamy grain

—Carla Bozulich


You may know Carla Bozulich from her previous incarnations as husky-toned vocalist-songwriter in the alt-country Geraldine Fibbers, or from her experimental improvisational work as Scarnella in tandem with ex-Fibbers, current Wilco guitarist Nels Cline; way back when, she got her first notices in the hardcore industrial-dance unit Ethyl Meatplow. Along the way, she recorded a cover version of Willie Nelson’s entire Red Headed Strangeralbum, to enormous critical acclaim.

Bozulich has been all over the musical parking lot, and that she’s done memorable and even groundbreaking work in these places has made her a highly regarded and valuable presence on the L.A. music scene — this Los Angeles, which has so needed poetical pop figures like her, an artist who could strongly persuade listeners that it’s important to blur the lines between lovelorn sentimental rock music and the intellectual joys of its modernist musical cousins. Bozulich’s newest incarnation is as Evangelista, whose album, called Hello, Voyager came out in March, following her 2006 solo album, which bore the title Evangelista.

“Evangelista is a group of hardcore pony princes on a different dirty throne every night in a different dirty town, fighting and knocking each other out for sound and love and your right to crawl inside and shake to the low hum of the rumbling in your spine. Evangelista is a force inside a body that has such a transparent skin you can dip into it or dive inside. You can drink from it. You can give away your strength — and you can take it — you can take as much as you want because there is much more than you could ever ever want. You can steal sound from the walls and move your spine all the way from rumbling anger to the quiet pulse of a last breath — and you don’t have to be scared even though when the time comes, you will not be spared. Evangelista is calling you home.”— Carla Bozulich, via e-mail

As she did on the first Evangelista album, Bozulich, in partnership with her main collaborator, bassist/low-end channeler Tara Barnes, recorded Hello, Voyager in Montreal with members of that fascinating free-rock ensemble called A Silver Mt. Zion (ex-Godspeed You Black Emperor!), as well as Cline, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, a small army of local drummers, and the crucial inclusion of Nadia Moss on very churchy organ. The half-composed, half-improvised songs/soundscapes they made together now place Evangelista at an extraordinary level, boasting so many novel ways in which to tear open the soft flesh of sound-heart-mind to reveal that rocky, squishy, anguished, grimly hopeful and mystically quizzical terrain of the quivering heart within.

Bozulich, for the most part, does not just sing these songs, she digs them up, and they undulate in her cupped hands, screeching. Which is fascinating to hear yet not the most extraordinary thing about this music. That would be Carla Bozulich’s voice itself, an instrument of rich, sensual, creamy grain that seduces the ears but never cajoles or insists or harangues as it pleads, testifies, preaches and teaches. (It’s an instrument that one would have to be born with, and she was.)

“I don’t think of myself as a woman. I do like to dress up in women’s clothes. I do like to sing from the point of view of a woman, but, often, I think and write and sing from the point of view of a man. Mostly, I do not identify with either gender at all. But lack of gender ... does that imply lack of sexuality? Do you need gender for sex? Well, the answer is no.”

Hello, Voyager sprawls toward the stars, then clatters back toward you on crab legs, skewing toward the prickly and dissonant in “Smooth Jazz” (which isn’t) — arcane squeals, martial bass and drums, cymbal splash, contorted voice, muddy red-green-black puddles of weedy sound — but capable of the maximum heartbreak in “The Blue Room,” a crystallization of Evangelista that rolls punk rock, chamber music, country twang and avantish jazz into one febrile ball, where, Bozulich says, she’s “willing but unable to come out and play.” Like much of the album’s pieces, “The Blue Room” is characterized by an air of suspension — not emptiness but postsomething, like an affair, obviously, though it could be anything emotionally massive.

“They say if you changed just one thing and mine was a minute in time, that everything around you could end up different. Well, it would be worth it, but I want to be exactly as I am — a jumbled, ex-bastard, brash yet gentle monster bent on mercy and sound and kisses and brutal expenditure of irrational love and rage via sound and chocolate — springing along with a logical trajectory, dictated by scientific principles that I don’t need to understand. And always changing.”

On Hello, Voyager, at times the noise and random squawk give way to pummeling, fuzzy punk like a headlong race into the fire (“Truth is Dark Like Outer Space”); or a kind of audio verité of an abstract sort, all these blurry, hazy howlings, though not exactly howls of pain; tracks like “The Frozen Dress” don’t even try to be music in a conventional sense, though that hardly matters. In the impact of its urge, its need, its alienation, it expresses things Bozulich (and, possibly, we) feel but might not fully understand.

“Aside from utter and painful awkwardness, ecstasy is my most frequent state. I’m greedy like that. And frankly, it don’t take much.”

Slow, measured, minimal sometimes, her words and violins slice, but spread like butter knives — “Every time you see the word never, you must cross it out”— and with the music brings strange, overcast, enjoyably insular feelings. But don’t forget (you won’t) that she’s ripping herself open for you, and it can be painful. By album’s end, you’ll be hard-pressed not to feel something akin to love for her precisely because of that commitment to herself, and to us.

“I like to feel understood because it makes me feel that I belong amongst the other people walking around. I’m not sure if I am imagining this — I really might be wrong or dead or dreaming or otherwise ill-fitted to this world ... Maybe it’s not my music that I want understood ... half the time I have no idea what it means myself. But I, Carla, would like to be understood.”

Now listen to Hello, Voyager’s closing title track, where, amid the wicked, wild guitar feedback, tumbling trashcan drums and unrequited air terrifyingly full of numbed remorse and no recourse, here comes expressionist poet musician Carla Bozulich, saying, “The word is love. Love! Can you say it with me?”


EVANGELISTA | Hello, Voyager | Constellation


Evangelista, Xiu Xiu and others perform at the Echoplex on Thursday, August 14.