Beauty Queen Autopsy
The music on Beauty Queen Autopsy’s debut album Lotharia isn’t necessarily the opposite of what you might expect from a collaboration between Unwoman’s Erica Mulkey and Caustic’s Matt Fanale, but it certainly does break some new ground for both artists. While Mulkey’s baroque cello-pop and Fanale’s wide-ranging industrial stylings are leagues apart on paper, the raw electronic pop sound of the record isn’t impossible to trace to either artist’s discography. It’s a record that goes far afield without becoming unfamiliar, as two cult acts explore some heretofore unlikely common ground.
Really, a goodly portion of BQA’s appeal lies in how the two distinctive personalities at its heart recast themselves to fit the project’s remit. One of Mulkey’s great assets as a performer is her forthright and powerful voice, but she plays very coy here, vacillating between vulnerable and seductive crooning as befits songs about sex, betrayal, and the cyclical ways they can chase and enable one another. If you think of the album as a sort of character unto itself, it’s through Mulkey we get a feel for Lotharia‘s motivations, from the confessional “Dorothy Parker Had Days Like This” to the unsettling and callous “The Taxidermist”, and the darker-side-of-sexual-liberation anthem “We Libertines”. It’s a complex and evocative performance, as she weaves enough commonality between the sweet, mid-album melancholy of “Birthday Pony” and the nigh-diabolical spoken word closer “The Devil You Don’t” to suggest a singular persona as narrator and commentator.
For his part, Fanale foregoes the spotlight in favour of writing and producing the record’s twelve tracks. It’s an unusual role for him in some ways, if only because it’s his personality and sensibility that holds his now considerable catalogue together; even on collaborations his figurative and literal voice as a creator is always present. With Mulkey up front, Fanale bends his self-taught DIY musical palette in different directions, tapping into a dusty vein of trip-hop on “Contaminate Me” and dirty, grinding synthpop on “Petit Mort”. While there are moments (specifically “Pumps” and “Spread”) that feel close to some of his work as Caustic, they’ve been stripped to their basic rhythmic and melodic components, giving the album a certain musical sparseness.
Collaborations between established personalities can often suffer when what makes each performer distinctive gets lost in an attempt to meet in some non-existent middle ground. Lotharia doesn’t have that problem; where both Unwoman and Caustic have more than enough personality on their own, they subsume themselves so much in serving Beauty Queen Autopsy that it can take a solid few listens to ferret out the connections that run beneath it’s skin. It’s a record with it’s own character, quirks and agenda, and it speaks volumes about itself throughout.