-- Chris Rubin

Salt Peter

In a world swamped with T-shirt slogans, Silverfish's "Hips Tits Lips Power" became the definitive one. But as the aggro punkers' frontwoman, Lesley Rankine, soon realized, there's more to life than fueling riot grrrls with pithy phrases. She fled London for America, where she met Mark Walk during a brief stint with the Skinny Puppy-type project Pigface. The two holed themselves up in a Seattle basement with a bank of computers and synths, and the result of those seven months is the very unexpected Salt Peter, a textured, trip-hop odyssey through layered vocals, horns, loops, sampled conversations, and general weirdness. From the slithering opening beats of "Flippin' the Bird," it's obvious that Rankine has been transformed into a very different creature, perhaps the wayward sister of Polly Jean Harvey and Portishead's Beth Gibbons.

Rankine's former ranting has been replaced by a slinking sensuousness; when she declares, "If I scream, it's 'cause I want to," you certainly believe her. But upon reaching the ripe old age of 30, Lesley discovered there's more than one way to be heard: "I can speak so softly, 'cause I hold so much power," she sings on "Heidi." Musically, though the album moves fluidly from the NIN-reminiscent guitar thunder of "Pin" to the baggy danceability of "Swallow," direction is not a problem. Rankine's acutely painful/beautiful lyrics sew the pieces together, while her partner's pop sensibilities make the difficult revelations easier on the ear. Maybe the new year will see the aimlessness of blind Courtney Loving usurped by women like Rankine, those of us who have found there is strength in beauty and femininity. Maybe girls will be able to stop screaming, and boys will strain to hear them whisper.

-- Amanda-Jane

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