On the second day of recording Prince of Truth, Carla Bozulich, the singer and leader of Evangelista, fell seriously ill. After recovering, Bozulich reexamined and dissected the recording sessions, eventually calling in even more contributors like guitar deity Nels Cline and percussionist Ches Smith (Xiu Xiu, Mr. Bungle). Listening to the album, one might guess something like this had happened, as the fragility of the “loud” moments and the intensity of the “quiet” ones seem to reflect the emotional and conceptual subtexts in the recording. And it all makes for one compelling listen.
Listening to Prince of Truth is like looking at a fossil of a large prehistoric animal: you’re staring something in the face that is long gone. For an album of personal ballads that were probably originally written with guitar and a piece of paper, the end result is staggeringly cut, processed, and digitally edited. And indeed, modern musicians and listeners will be savvy to the album’s fragmented production tricks – melodic lines moved digitally to impossible locations, vocals and guitars seemingly processed by extra-terrestrials. Even the tenderest parts of the album, like the lingering sonic mist of “Tremble Dragonfly,” sound ineffably like a remnant of something much different.
This feeling of temporal displacement contrasts fascinatingly with Bozulich’s fierce, immediate, but still enigmatic poetry. The multiple interpretations of just the song title “I Lay There In Front Of Me Covered in Ice” are indicative of the disparities that Bozulich works with on the track. The lyrics here, unabashedly about contemplating suicide, chill one’s spine as they spin over a slow organ ballad. In fact, the most interesting tracks on the album are similar in approach, taking an intense subject and rotating it over musical signifiers that are tastefully incongruous with the words.
This lyrical and stylistic disparity reaches a climax on “You Are A Jaguar,” the album's most abrasive track. As Bozulich alternately yells and whispers “You and all are our friends are here/ And those that aren’t are very near/ Speed of light/ Rest your head/ Black hair/ Red bed,” it’s not hard to read this as a description of making the record in tandem with overcoming her serious throat illness, fitting for a record that resolves sound and music’s power over death. Mixed in with this master trope are brilliantly imaginative and musically aware sound objects. The strings on “Tremble Dragon Fly” and “Iris Didn’t Spell” vacillate between sounding like amorphous textural wallpaper and like actual “strings,” while the opening shaker of “Crack Teeth” nods to the phasing minimalism of Terry Riley or Steve Reich.
Clearly, Prince of Truth will not appeal to those who make clear distinctions between music and noise -- it's a challenging album, both in form and content. But if you sit tight and accept the album as a conflicted and meticulous collection of songs, you'll see Prince of Truth for what it is: a hugely current, almost perfectly flawed record.
1. The Slayer
2. Tremble Dragonfly
3. I Lay There in Front of Me Covered in Icein ice
4. You Are a Jaguar
5. Iris Didn't Spell
6. Crack Teeth
7. On the Captain's Side