NASTY, BIG, POINTY TEETH? Nah. Just Policewomanwithfangs.
Who knows how long it will last or what will come of it, but you’d be wise to check out Policewomanwithfangs., the latest project from one of Portland’s most intriguing frontmen and songwriters, Chris Moulton (and, yes, the period is part of the name). Like the rest of Moulton’s efforts — including 2005’s In the Arms of Providence through the Cambiata, Corinthians, Everysmithever, and the Vanityites — there is emotion and drama dripping from every note, as he opens his veins onto the hard-drive.
This time, however, it’s producer Nate Shupe who’s there to catch every drop and help translate it into a final product that’s infused with hip-hop beats and muted distortion. Most similar sonically to Everysmithever, the debut, self-titled, 15-song album can also be just as down-in-the-mouth and death-obsessed. Somehow, though, the end product manages to often be pretty upbeat rock and roll, if seen through a dirty, scuffed lens.
It’s easy to see Moulton as Portland’s Pete Doherty, but I can assure you that Policewomanwithfangs. is a hell of a lot more interesting than this year’s Babyshambles record. (Oh. Did you not realize there was a new Babyshambles record? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.) With an undercurrent of ’80s/’90s indie rock, this record is almost universally catchier than it should be. While Moulton drags syllables through muddy guitars, Shupe drives an insistent backbeat that manages to be as off-kilter as anything digital you’ve heard.
With Moulton as architect and Shupe as contractor, the songs often have a monolithic quality to them. On “White Trash,” like a Sundays song left outside in the rain to rust, it can even sound like two parallel songs going on side by side that you could pull apart so that both would work on their own. The cylon voice in the finish that fades to just a hint of click-track lets you know it’s on purpose.
Moulton carves out some interesting guitar lines, too, arcing up in “Two Lions” to lend an early-’90s vibe to a song that might otherwise fit on In Rainbows. “I don’t wanna die,” he sings, playfully, “not now, not here, not anywhere/I can’t exactly help it.” When he delivers like this, without too much of the Broadway singer, it can be absolutely electric. As is the chorus of “Truce,” which opens discordant and industrial, but then morphs into a pop-rock track muted at the edges: “Am I going to just lay down and die for you?”
Portland hasn’t heard something this goth and relatively rock in a while. With Moulton’s precise phrasing and the dense layers of production, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotion. It can be cloying like a tight room with too many clove cigarettes. But that just makes the moments when a sing-along breeze blows through that much more refreshing.
The pre-chorus for “Vanilla” is kind of like that, a break from the verse that’s “so in love with your creations/While you softly cut yourself,” but only until the chorus pushes right past it into full head-nod: “When you break your promises/Or maybe one of my bones.” There’s some Depeche Mode here, in the way that sad songs can be sing-alongs.