How We Quit the Forest

Rasputina are not the only musicians making rock/pop music without guitars. Their first album, Thanks for the Ether, presented a collection of finely crafted rock/pop songs performed by three women with cellos, accompanied by the occasional drumtrack, the composition style largely a somewhat adapted form of classical cello phrasing. For anyone interested in good songwriting, interesting melody and harmony, or the sound of a cello, that was enough, and the record found many devoted fans.

How We Quit the Forest, however, launches into new, more original territory, conducting, if you will, an experiment in Noises You Wouldn't Expect From A Cello. The first two songs open in the tradition of 70's heavy metal. The second of these, "LeechWife," even includes a fake live audience track under its opening cello chords, which are so stereotypically '70s rock that the first band you think of is Spinal Tap (and you have to strain to remind yourself that there are no guitars on this album). And this is not a song about Big Bottoms—as the title suggests, it's about a woman who heals with leeches. Think about this. This is brilliance. A '70s rock composition phrased like every other '70s rock song but played by women, on cello only, with a subject matter of women's medieval healing practices.

The subjects of the songs, all written by the band's creator Melora Creager (save for a good cover of "You Don't Own Me"), are: the mayfly who lives for one day—this may be long enough; herb girls of Birkenau—how can it be that there were people there who saw them?; the methods of exorcism of medieval priests; a brother with trenchmouth; creatures we can only stare at and various other topics even less amenable to short description. Creager draws attention to the existence of oddity and imperfection amongst humans and almost-humans; she seems to give these freaks an aspect of beauty that a normalizing human vision usually cannot accommodate. The music complements this mission perfectly.

As stated above, the songs on this album are more "experimental" than those on the first, "experimental" meaning—in a normalizing industry such as the popular music one, and they are on Columbia Records—anything that questions the set themes, techniques and approaches of a genre of music. That this record leans more toward the margins of what a cello can do and less toward classical phrasing may mean delight or disappointment to fans initially, depending on what drew them to the band in the beginning. But Rasputina presses at the edges of rock/pop music without leaving its territory behind altogether. Any time spent listening to the work will show that it presents a more daring argument than did Thanks For the Ether: There are many ways to write, record and present a rock/pop song—so why is what we hear on the radio and MTV so limited in its content?

Jill Stauffer