Portland’s Rachel Taylor Brown has created an oddity of an album on her fourth release. Expertly entwining geekish novelty with theological/existential ponderings, Brown’s Susan Storm’s Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes explores and experiments with strange hybrids of both style and substance.
The album careens unpredictably from the minimalist folk-industrialism of the title track to grandiose polyphonic waltzes of “Ambush Bug/Reduviidae” to somber spectral ballads of “Teresa Benedicta Also Edith Stein”. And yet all these diverse elements cohere according to some alien dream logic. Brown simply drops the listener down the sonic rabbit hole without a second glance.
The title delivers everything it promises with tracks about Galactus the World Eater and St. Francis of Assisi going happily hand in hand. Brown builds a motif of angst and ennui by bouncing super villains and religious figures off of each other in equal parts. One moment you’re listening to a dissonant industrial ballad about the abandonment issues of Bruce Wayne’s bastard son Damian and the next you’re listening to a jaunty tune about St. Zoe being hung by her hair over a dung fire. In doing so, Brown treads a fine line between depth and gimmickry that threatens to rob the album of its seriousness. But it’s a balancing act she manages to keep on the right side of sincerity.
The magic doesn’t come all at once, however. It can be easy to find the album prematurely off-putting right from the repetitious melodies and droning vocals of the opening track. This is a CD that requires time and attention before finding your bearings in Brown’s fantasy world. In the end you’ll find that extra time and attention is well spent admission. Susan Storm’s Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes grows more rewarding the more you listen.
Review By: David Feltman[Rating: 3.5/5]