Stolen Babies - Naught (2012)


Ignore the smiling sun and chuckling pink sheep you see above. The artwork for the new studio album by California based Stolen Babies may give you the wrong idea. Hidden under the "aw shucks" imagery is an avant and varied performance from a band with nothing to lose; and everything to gain. Fronted by accordion daredevil Dominique Lenore Persi, there is no sub genre or categorization that will ever truly fit the bill. Combining carnival tempos with extreme metal screams and over the top percussion, "Naught" is everything you never thought and nothing you ever expected.

The initial bang of "Never Come Back" might be the perfect way to introduce the bizarre styles that follow. The focal point lies in Persi, both in voice and her accordion melodies. But what is more impressive than her command of the keys of the squeeze box is the way her voice morphs and changes so easily. From circus melodies to the most devastating screams, she cuts back and forth with little to no effort. With the full band flanked by extra "percussion," in the form of an oil drum contraption with chains on it, songs like "Splatter" have a bit of added depth. There is a groove here, bolstered by the variations in tempo delivery. The flow is simply scary, a haunting one that will become lodged in your head. To further the use of keys and bonus drums, "Second Sleep" comes through as the most powerful track on the album. Persi's voice is at her best here, hitting all the right notes at the right times. She manages to shine, as a frontwoman, and as the glue that holds the operation together.

The true taste of the strange comes on "Behind The Days," a short interlude of sorts, which, at times, forms the backbone of a demented waltz. Strings, woodwinds and percussion come together in a beautiful, if not eerie marriage. But the band quickly toss that aside with a blasting chorus of cymbals on "Mousefood." This is the proverbial "letting the hair down" moment, as they blast forward with harsh screams from the mouth of Persi, and a rapid fire exchange of drums. The beauty lies in the atmospheric lead in to the outro, leaving a chilling air as your last gasp. It seems weird, but the avant, almost beat poetry delivery on "Don't Know" is refreshing. The resonating bass notes, layered atop a plethora of sounds and tones, have a lasting effect. Whether it is the chants entering the bridge, or the xylophone coming out of it, there are a lot of moving parts to make this all work. Keeping on the short and sweet dynamic, "I Woke Up" is a frightening two and a half minutes of horror movie score, with pulsing beats and the screeching of strings and distortion. With the lights off, and an empty house, you could find yourself checking under the bed.

The treat that is "Swimming Hole" is too good to miss, with a classic, almost cabaret feel. A rich, flowing bass line accompanies the bursts of accordion. Persi's talent, if not already solidified, is own display here. She puts her spell on you in each and every smooth transition, fooling you into waiting every second for the explosion, one that simply has to wait. Even the eletro backed "Dried Moat" strings you along with a chorus of bass and percussion. Everything seems off kilter, leaving you feeling off balance for the bulk of the track. That is, until the first pulverizing scream leads into the bridge. It all comes back together in a flash, with pounding drums sitting underneath a sliding piece of guitar work. There is a punk influence at play, but one done with all the bravado and gusto of a seasoned metal band. There is a social commentary to be had on "Prankster," albeit buried in a barrage of distorted riffs and percussion. Once again, Persi flexes her vocal muscle, laying down a lyrical path that is both sugar coated and dastardly all at once. Backed by percussionist Ben Rico, the pair of voices forms a distorted harmony that is goose bump inducing.

Just as you thought the weirdest was behind you, "Birthday Song" comes into frame. No, it isn't a version of the classic, but rather a replacement. It may seem just too over the top, but it is sure to make a lasting impression. The same could easily be said for "Civil Disguise," a track that boasts one of the more complete sounds you will find here. The banging on the oil drum of pain returns, adding another layer to the already full to bursting mix. Don't let this abundance of beats fool you, drummer Gil Sharone is a consummate professional, one that can fill a mixing board with blast beats and fills all his own. Persi executes the perfect transition once again, going from sweet melody to ear piercing screeches in no time flat. The finale, which happens to be the longest track on the album, comes in the form of "Grubbery (Burnt To A Crisp)," a track that is as far from its name as could be. Rather than an all out fire storm that you may have expected, you have a silky smooth blending of styles. The stripped down finish speaks to the artistic side of the band, leaving you with a whisper rather than a bang.

Somewhere in their chosen career path, the members of Stolen Babies decided to make a sharp left turn, and venture into territory that few have ever seen, let alone conquered. These thirteen tracks are victories, each and every one. By keeping them blissfully short, they allows themselves to freedom to flesh out each idea on its own, without clouding them. No, this won't be a universally heralded album. There will be those who expect something completely opposite from what they get; those people may not be ready for something... different. But as you, the listener, are prepared to step out of your comfort zone, so, too, will the bands. And for all the unique soundscapes on "Naught," it would be worth moving off the beaten path.

8.5/10

Official Site - http://www.stolenbabiestheband.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/stolenbabiesofficial