While People Eating Peoples eponymic debut may not be, free and clear, brand new it was released quietly late last year July sees the national release of the album (through Control Group). Lets call it the debutant ball of People Eating People, one in which a bucket of blood gets poured on Nouela Johnstons head and all hell breaks loose. Keep clear of the crazy lady singing/ yelling I hate all my friends, every single one. Sleep with one eye open, you poor soul. It doesnt bode well that the chosen sobriquet is People Eating People; it does, however, bode well that Nouela Johnston beats from the keys of her piano prog-gypsy-hooks spliced with pop. (Come to think of it, Gypsy was pop at some point in history.) You may find yourself in proximity to a stage atop which she sits, raging. Youve been warned. Watch for flying objects. Metal hasnt cornered the market on angst.
Johnston grew up in South Korea (as the daughter of a Julliard pianist, no less) on a diet of The Beatles and jazz. More recently, after her Stateside disembarkation in 1997, she did time in Say Hi (formerly Say Hi to Your Mom) and Mon Frere. People Eating People grew out of the necessity for a personal creative outlet.
Johnstons voice draws fleeting inspiration from Gwen Stefani (think: Tragic Kingdom), Regina Spektor, BjÃ¶rk, Nina Simone, and Fiona Apple a diverse vocal heterogeny. Some may call it chameleonic as a compliment, but it really amounts to vocal Multiple Personality Disorder. This isnt so much an album as a cut and paste art project. Johnston slides from jazz influenced, club-ready silken delivery to outrage in the blink of an eye. You want that Tom Waits carny vibe (monkey grinder optional)? Shes got it. You want radio ready singles? Theres two: For Now and Rain, Rain. Very little of what People Eating People offers up is subpar, but it listens like a Various Artists compilation.
Rain, Rain opens with the tinkle of keyboard entering into irresistible hook.
Rain, Rain, wash away this gravel; its cluttering my thoughts.
Rain, rain, wash away these piles; theyre piling on top of all that Ive grown up dreaming and scheming of.
Rain, rain, wash away everything.
For Now, on the other hand, borders on overly mawkish pandering. Compare that to the Stefani-like yells on the confessional yet apoplectically furious I Hate All My Friends; factor in that For Now follows I Hate All My Friends, and its not hard to see why volatile may be the best way to describe People Eating People thematically. While I Hate All My Friends capitalizes on vocal fortitude, other such tracks fare worse. Building Armor provides acrid pitch problems. On For Now Johnston tries to slide around atop the lyrics One day, Ill make you love me and ends up sounding like a first round reject from American Idol trying to run scales.
People Eating People is at its most melodious when tempos slow (on such tracks as Lets Rage and Straight Lines). Where Johnstons voice breaches the speakers raw and ungoverned on toe tappers like Building Armor, Straight Lines displays vocal proficiency. Whats startling is that lyrically, Straight Lines and Lets Rage are arguably the bleakest tracks on the album. If Reason to Believe was the prayer at the end of Springsteens gloomy Nebraska, Lets Rage is the nihilistic, heavenward fist shake (sweetly sung, of course) to close People Eating People. The opening line: Im nobody special, youre nobody special; lets rage. The closing line: What is life, then wasting time anyway? In her piano playing (and worldview), she draws on the iconoclasm of Tori Amos. While it isnt fair to compare Johnstons apples to Amos oranges in terms of lyrical structure, both are unflinching, unflappable, and uncompromising in their lyrical content.
People Eating People is scattershot and unrepentant for it, a Sunday buffet in album form. As you travel through the buffet queue, youll notice some dishes were overcooked or hurried. The quality is variable, but theres a whole lot of tastiness to gorge yourself on, too.
“I Hate All My Friends”
“All The Hospitals”