Sun July 3rd
10 SW 3rd
To talk about an artist in terms of their self-indulgence probably seems more than a little redundant: The act of music making in itself--especially music making in the traditional context of the pop music industry--is by definition a pretty indulgent enterprise, especially considering the overwhelming surplus of it all. Still, even amongst those bloated confines, there are some musicians whose sore thumbs of single-minded indulgence set them apart from the throngs of the decadent. We are lead to believe that these are the sorts of people, musically, who more than most are prone to astronomical highs and devastating lows--shouldering their self-indulgence as though it's a musical instrument all its own. Scout Niblett--through all of the frustration, exhilaration, and unbelievable lack of artistic restraint--is one of these people. And even in light of Kidnapped By Neptune, her frightfully uneven follow up to 2003's masterful I Am, I thank God for it.
Since the release of 2001's Sweet Heart Fever, Nottingham, England's Scout Niblett (born Emma Louise Niblett) has been consistently befuddling audiences with a militantly minimalist approach to pop performance--one that traditionally finds our lone heroine alternately manning a sparse, awkwardly employed drum kit or an uncommonly loud electric guitar as her voice ricochets between mumbled coo and piercing primal scream. With a penchant for wig wearing and a collegiate background in performance art, it's never entirely clear whether "Scout Niblett" the performer and Emma Niblett are exactly one in the same--an uncertainty that, much like most everything else having to do with Ms. Niblett, can be either incredibly off-putting or incredibly intriguing.
Through her records to date (her compelling debut Sweet Heart Fever, the barren savagery of I Conjure Series, and the fully realized vision of I Am), Niblett's compositions have remained stuttering, cut-and-paste affairs--with subtly strummed minor chords bluntly edged alongside full-fledged altrock riffage, scotch-taped together with the occasional drum solo, and all topped with a nonsensical cheerleader's chant. It's an uncompromisingly fickle approach to songwriting--one that's clearly not made for everyone, and perhaps for no one but Niblett herself. When it hits, this filterless, entirely unselfconscious method of songwriting--a style perhaps best personified by Niblett hero Daniel Johnston--has a capacity like nothing else to decimate a listener; enough so that it can typically atone for a creator's rather regular misses. Yet on her latest full-length, Scout for the first time stretches this dichotomy uncomfortably far.
Never has Niblett's sensibility seemed quite as self-indulgent as on Kidnapped By Neptune, and, unsurprisingly, never have the results been so mixed. Part of this is due to the impending air of water-treading--for the first time it seems that, in some places, Scout's becoming a little too comfortable with her methods. Elsewhere, her decadence is pushed to the point of exhaustion (the aimless instrumental "Handsome," "Safety Pants"' endless/monotonous refrain of "C'mon honey, what are you doin' to me?", etc.). Fortunately, for each frustration there's an equally gratifying success--"This City"'s tipsy piano melody, the brilliant 180 of "Hot To Death," the near dance-floor drive of the title track, not to mention the presence of Niblett's greatest song to date, the beautifully realized love vignette "Wolfie." It's as if it's this tremendous disparity that allows for her greatest achievements--that the less restraint she uses in trimming the fat of her excesses, the greater her successes. It can be a frustrating enterprise for a listener, to be sure--but despite the patience necessary to fully absorb her hyper-indulgent craft, it's these incongruencies that make Scout Niblett one of the most compelling solo artists at work today.