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Wetdog - Frauhaus

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Artist: Wetdog

Album: Frauhaus

Label: Captured Tracks

Review date: Jan. 5, 2011

On the surface, Frauhaus could have been released anytime in the last 30 years. The fragmented songs recall all sorts of learn-as-you go rock. It’s the sound of friends picking up instruments and fitting their discoveries together democratically. The cryptic hooks and impatient shifts between rock and folk and funk will always make more sense to the band members than anyone else, but as the material becomes familiar, hearing those junctures feel less like eavesdropping on a clique and more like participating in it. The Minutemen and The Breeders were bands that worked like this, but it’s a type of music that’s chiefly British and chiefly female.

As luck would have it, Wetdog are from London, and the three of them are women. They’ve been at this long enough that the awkward playing isn’t awkward because of amateurism – they’ve honed in on the notes they can harmonize on and the tempos they can make forceful. Rivka Gilleron, who takes most of the lead vocals, plays a hand-altered guitar and switches off on other instruments the most, with Sarah Datblygu’s drumming weaving in and around of the melodies. Billy Easter provides the bass riffs that hold their contraptions together. The playing is tight, if unpredictable, like a fast conversation that’s full of interjections and quips and talking over each other.

“Lower Leg” manages to be catchy even with a tempo change that kills pop dead. The yelping vox and popping bass of “Wymmin’s Final” signal an intent to upset, but it’s gleeful and silly, too, even with the chorus of “Heads roll from the gallows.” I can’t quite make out the politics. They’re present, but less barbed than forebearers Huggy Bear and Au Pairs.

Situations crop up where harmonies form out of the flotsam, like Wetdog is going to make some pretty music, only to have the harmonies sidetracked by circus rhythms. It’s a like a parade taking a detour through a parlor. On “Long Long Time to Go,” the wheezing carnival exits the room on each verse, but on “Snapper” it subsumes the song. Both cases manage to be happy and disturbing.

When I saw the band play a casual gig, one wore a French sailor’s shirt, another kilt and boots, and the third an insipidly puffed pantsuit. What was drag and what was dayclothes? It’s the same for their music – they’ll start to bark, but no slogan comes out, even though it’s clear they want to shake up the listener. As the eccentricities add up, Wetdog becomes more than another artpunk chop-shop. Instead of preaching to the converted, they make puzzles to test the converted. That’s what this sort of music needs to grow for another decade.

By Ben Donnelly

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