Purse are definitely leader in the clubhouse for Album Art of the Year, thanks to sometime Phoenix illustrator (in the ’00s) Bob Smyth, whose intricate pieces have always made my mind race. The hot-pink-and-black big cat motif on the cover of Indiana is like Tron of the Jungle.
Smyth’s a multi-talented guy. He also happens to bang around on the drums for Purse, as he’s been doing here and there for more than a decade. Ginette Labonville is his long-time partner in crime, the other half of a guitar-drums two-piece that’s sometimes joined by bass in the live setting (producer Noah Defilippis plays bass on the record).
As far as I can figure, this new four-song EP is the first release they’ve had, the first digitized capture of their raw take on stripped-down metal and punk. Labonville has an interesting finger-style on the electric guitar that’s not totally obvious first listen, due to all the wash and general loudness. And Smyth ain’t exactly one to be gentle. Even when he’s being light on the high hat, he seems to smack it around a little bit.
It’s a sound built for, and built in, DIY spaces like basements and small clubs, where you can get right inside it and thrash around. In the headphones, it can be a bit claustrophobic, but that seems to be the point.
Labonville’s vocals are Geddy Lee in tone, but never trying to be that pretty. When she, in “22 mph Introvert,” decides to come down into something more mid-range, it’s to ask “what you gonna do, without love?” and it’s like being utterly dismissed.
By the song’s finish, it’s a lesson in shoegazer, a cross between Ocean and Belly — it can be catchy at times, but the guitar’s alternating notes bore into you and turn catchy into uncomfortable.
The David Camlin video for “Trading Places” is delightfully disturbing, and effectively captures the Purse aesthetic. It’s fun and harmless, but, man, isn’t the clown in those old Betty Boop videos just a little bit off? You might find yourself questioning whether you’re supposed to be enjoying this record quite so much. Purse, even when Labonville is cycling through some relatively technical stuff, still finish somewhere near whatever people mean by fevered.
Just like early Metallica, which they ape in the open to “Indiana.” Even if you don’t catch more than a tenth of the lyrics, you get the idea. This is music for people who generally find the upside in fever-induced hallucinations. Things are not normal in the Purse universe. And that’s the good part.
Indiana | Released by Purse | with Mouth Washington + Swarmlord + Electric Octopus | at SPACE, in Portland | May 31 | purse22.bandcamp.com/releases