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Indian Jewelry - Health and Wellbeing

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Artist: Indian Jewelry

Album: Health and Wellbeing

Label: Girlgang

Review date: Mar. 25, 2005

The great majority of musical pioneers can be divided into two distinct categories. There are those who puncture straight through the arc of history like an awl, miraculously unpolluted by either context or contemporaries (Keiji Haino, Nurse With Wound, Neu!, etc.). And then there those who happen to be at the right place at the right time. Musicians who stumbled into myth through dumb luck and circumstance. Inadvertent avatars. Archetypal among this latter group, in my opinion, is Suicide. The only thing brazen and unusual about their seedy city sound is its sheer chronological antiquity (minimalist synth duos were far from common back in 1971). Their recordings bear this theory out with awful clarity, each one dwindling ever more pathetically into the shadows of its predecessor, culminating in the abysmally uninspired and irrelevant American Supreme. Present-day interviews with the band are even worse, revealing them as sadly oblivious to the true nuances of their accomplishments. Their foothold in the annals of brave, modern-minded music seems feeble at best.

Suicide's one true, tenable musical achievement, however, was their instrumentation: droning, two-note keyboard riffs, delay-pedaled vocals, and a simple drum machine. Songs that go on forever without expanding or evolving. Endless, weary, indiscernible talk-singing spread across meaningless mechanical beats. Conceptually, it sounds like an aggravating and painfully pretentious formula. And, in many ways, it is. But like nearly all styles and genres, it can be done convincingly, and Suicide's chic, bleak, art gallery depression definitely holds some lunar, low-lit, black-leather allure, because over the years it has spawned an overwhelming number of imitators, adherents and disciples.

Indian Jewelry used to be one of this flock, just another face in the giant, minimalist in-crowd. But then, slowly and loudly, they started doing what Suicide never would: they started adding things.

A revolving-door gang of ex-Texans (now based in L.A.) led by the rock-monikered Nikki Texas and Erika Thrasher, Indian Jewelry take Suicide's tools echo-soaked drum machines, repetitive neon keyboard pulses and stylized vocal washes but then put them to work. Deep, dark, dour dance music is just the foundation for a warehouse-worth of clattery percussion, reverbed guitars, electronic churn, buried saxophone blurts and synthesizer space dust. It's a vortexing black hole of sunglasses-at-night style and nihilist highway anthems, and Health and Wellbeing is just the tip of this black-clad iceberg, as they've self-released stacks of smartly-crafted 7"s and CD-Rs via their own Girlgang Records and Tapes imprint.

But nothing they've done before has come close to this. Involving, hypnotic and succinct (nine tracks lasting a quick 25 minutes), Health and Wellbeing is the pure burning star core of Indian Jewelry's best electric torch songs, droning and dense and strangely precise. "Lost My Sight" pulses a clapping drum machine underneath walls of guitar static, while a cavernous keyboard riff howls out its two monolithic notes until everything dissolves and goes blind. "Dead Eyes" and "Mercedes" prowl along with more of a dead country lope, the emotionless vocals intertwining with spikes of distant cicada distortion. The title track is a lengthy, fractured, darkwave raga, over which the singer repeatedly whisper-rhymes "clinical depression" with "you get a vivisection."

A dirty, minute-long, broken-tambourine-and-mournful-guitar vignette bids the album farewell, and it's got one of the best song titles I've ever heard: "Partying with Jandek." That sort of sums up Indian Jewelry's whole vibe. It's probably what they should've called this album.

By Britt Brown

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