This is a bit of a Choose Your Own Review review. Turn to section A for sass, turn to section B for elegiac nonsense, turn to a different browser if you are a no-account doofus. For the impatient: The Neptune Power Federation’s new album Memoirs of a Rat Queen is a wellspring of joy.
Analysis is good. Careful, dispassionate investigation. A precise accounting of merits and flaws. Cutting your food into neat, manageable bites. Looking both ways before crossing the street, and then doing it again, because, gosh darn it, you just can’t be too careful.
Rock and roll doesn’t always have to do that, but it has to always sound like it *might be able to do that*, or it is a falseness, a staleness, a sadness and badness and no-goodness that thwimps to the ground in a pale imitation of grace. Accept no such pretenders.
On that note, please sleep soundly in the knowledge that the ne’er-do-wells in the Neptune Power Federation have drunk deep from the fountain of The Real Thing and are returned to tell tales of its rightness, its freshness, its goodness and greatness with a broken bottle lunge and a split-lip grin. Do you like Monster Magnet? Do you like Hawkwind? Do you like AC/DC? Do you like a band that sounds like they might set a bar on fire but still tip their servers extravagantly? In truth, if you saw that this review was of a band called The Neptune Power Federation and an album called Memoirs of a Rat Queen and didn’t head out the opposite door to go to volunteer at a soup kitchen, then you know exactly why you’re here, you goddamn dirtbag.
The Neptune Power Federation is a primarily Australian band whose California-based singer, The Imperial Priestess (no, you shut up – this band takes itself PRECISELY as seriously as they are supposed to) is at times a dead ringer for A Sound of Thunder’s Nina Osegueda, but Memoirs of a Rat Queen skews toward psychedelic sleaze and self-consciously ‘70s pomp that sounds like a mess but just flat-out works. “Watch Our Masters Bleed” is a shit-kicking blast of a tune that modulates tone and intensity through a number of nonetheless naturalistic sections, from a somewhat ethereal opening into a psychedelic groove with triangle and shakers, and then again into a righteously fat dirt-boogie breakdown riff. The album opener “Can You Dig” seems at first blush like a nod to the witchier end of the occult rock scene that blossomed over the last decade-plus (Jex Thoth, The Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, Bloody Blood Bloodiers & The Bloods, etc.), but swiftly reveals itself as significantly more tongue-in-cheek. Camp only works, after all, if it reveals an abiding love and respect for the source material it ostensibly sends up.
“Flying Incendiary Club for Subjugating Demons” burns itself down midway with an organ freakout and bad trip atmospherics before climbing inexorably back into a handclap-led swagger above which trebles a guitar solo with more bends than a convention of Radiohead fans who wore off the band when OK Computer dropped. “Rat Queen” indulges in more overtly hypnotic fare, with the tabla-like drums and nasal guitar lead. The Imperial Priestess is the star of the show throughout the album, but her multi-tracked voice is particularly powerful in all its layers on this song. The NPF often feels just as committed to the lusty, boozy bacchanal of sleaze rock as luminaries like Monster Magnet, and like the Magnet, the Neptunes (shut up, Pharrell) never abandon the power of pop song structures. Even when album closer “The Reaper Comes for Thee” creeps in as a doomed dirge, it easily tramps out onto a bouncy, gang-vocal singalong.
Yes, this album is all over the place. Hard rock, proto metal, psych rock, greaseball biker groove, glam rock, 70s prog pomp, and plenty else in between. Is this a problem? What kind of dweeb wants everything all the same color, the same flavor, the same tone, the same language? Last Rites: More Miscegenation, Please. “Bound for Hell” plays at a crossroads campfire blues but then yields immediately to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” which beguilingly marries a Joan Jett verse to a Queen chorus and will gladly kick you straight in the quivering meatballs if you look askance at the fusion. Put everything together and then do it again. Do it everywhere. Mess it up. Break it down. Build it up. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” also very briefly sounds like it is going to break into the outro of “November Rain.” Why not? Fuck you!
Some music seems to require certain conditions to be most effective: a quiet winter evening, a brash summer rainstorm, a top-down road trip. This is fine, but somewhat feeble. Why not listen to music that brings its own party? The Neptune Power Federation doesn’t stand on ceremony and wait for you to be in the proper mood; the NPF kicks down your door and plasters the party all inside your face-ears, eye-ears, and soul-ears, with all those dour outposts of careful observation immediately melted into a globule, a whimpering meat-brain of “**Here is where the rock and roll goes**.” You can’t ignore that. Elton John and Heart and the Stooges and AC/DC are in here. There’s a Sabbathy muck, too, and some Beatles and goddamn just all the sounds you might need. They’re in here; you’re in here. Get in here.
To be frank, I try not to over-analyze my writing. This is a music website, and I believe that you, fine reader, come to this mongrel place to read about music. But music isn’t ever only about the sounds, right? Maybe it’s a personal failing, but I haven’t found a way to listen to music without reaching out to whatever else the music might touch. Nevertheless, one nagging thought that often comes to me when I’m trying to write a review is: dude, you’re dropping too many names.
Sometimes it feels like a flimsy, easy cop-out. Listen to Band A’s new album B because they sound like Old Band C’s best album D. Today’s New Review is brought to you by the letters R I Y L. The last two measures of this band’s guitar solo sound like if “Eleanor Rigby” was played on a tuba and then the recording was played backward. These are (some of) the self-doubting thoughts I have. Sometimes I think, are you really such a lazy writer, or so lacking in creative energy, that the only way you can describe this truly exciting collection of songs and sounds is by way of reference to other shit that maybe the reader already knows?
It’s silly, mostly. I get it. It’s natural to look for points of comparison, touchstones, frames of reference. A non-trivial part of higher brain functioning involves learning to reason by analogy. It’s not so easy to just turn it off. So most of the time, I try to practice self-kindness. We’re all just… doing the best we can, aren’t we? If I read a review written by someone else and they tell me that something reminds them of The Doors, I am thankful for the comparison, because A) now the writer and I have a shared vocabulary to build a grammar from, and because B) I won’t ever need to waste my time listening to this new act, because The Doors are swamp gas.
But I think it goes a bit deeper than that, this tendency – this need – to place music in conversation with other music. I think what we’re really doing, what I’m really doing when I write a review that compares the Neptune Power Federation to Queen and AC/DC and Monster Magnet and Joan Jett, is constructing a narrative space for reaffirming my own history in a world that feels constantly on the verge of total erasure.
Strange, that one might want to couch the paralyzing fear of loss of self in a fully outward-facing language by building a web of familiar references. I don’t know, or particularly care to know, the psychology behind this, but when I type out a litany of references – “when you listen to this band, here are some of the historical references it might be useful to you to pick out” – I think what I’m actually doing is reminding myself, “I am here, now. I can place myself somewhere in this timeline. I am not alone in all of this, and neither does the listener need to be” The transience of life, the outrageous beauty of the world, the ceaseless, pitiless march of time – we can let these things coexist if we can find moves that allow us to sidestep their existential weight every now and then.
Is there any measurable way in which pointing out the way in which the chorus to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” sounds like it could have been plucked out of a Queen album from 1978 alters the inevitability of my own death and disappearance from the vivid substance of the physical world? Of course not. But it weaves into my own story the threads of other stories. In even the smallest way, it affirms that there are continuities outside of our direct experience that are no less real for their distance. Life is a rich, quilted thing, and if you don’t let the colors bleed through the seams, it’s too easy to suffer the little death that is the lie, “You are alone and self-contained.”
Whoever you are out there, I love you.