Oh Perilous World

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Rasputina's steampunk approach to rock & roll -- a trio of cellists influenced as much by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as by Marilyn Manson and Kronos Quartet -- is so implausibly bizarre that it would be easy to overlook the band as a novelty act. Don't. Lead cellist/songwriter/mad witch Melora Creager may play up the goth queen image to the hilt, with her tightly corseted dresses and dark eyeliner, but behind the fa├žade is a strikingly original sensibility that defies categorization. And comprehension, for that matter. Imagine Oh Perilous World then as an antiwar protest album made up of a loosely connected song suite dealing with Mary Todd Lincoln and her blimp armies, Fletcher Christian's renegade son Thursday, a children's army awaiting air ships that never arrive, the projected overthrow of Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, and a faux heavy metal political campaign chant that states "I feel that I can get behind heretical ideas and make them real." Oh, Mary Shelley, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein make cameo appearances as well. In short, forget the linear, rational explanations and just bask in the audacity of it all. This is a universe inhabited solely by Melora Creager. Here three cellists do their best flailing imitation of Metallica on "Draconian Crackdown" as Creager, alternating between a Kate Bush coo and a Robert Plant banshee wail, sings about spectacular suicide explosions. On "We Stay Behind" she sings a sorrowful dirge about a detached wooden leg that still wears a shoe. On "A Retinue of Moons/The Infidel Is Me" she leads the band through a punk tango while moaning about "the spores of resistance." And on "Incident in a Medical Clinic" she adopts the persona of the crazed Mary Todd Lincoln and sings "Quite unbelievably I want someone to be sweet to me when I am in absolutely horrible pain." It gets weirder from there. Oh Perilous World offers the kind of cracked world-view that will either strike you as inspired eccentricity or insufferable lunacy. In either case, it's a wild ride made more palatable by a restless musical imagination. Rasputina, to their credit, remain in a category of their own, sui generis, spinning out their inscrutable tales with crazed energy and genre-mashing abandon. You're unlikely to find a stranger -- or more strangely compelling -- album this year.

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