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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Eliza and The Strange are a great new find

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

Sometimes it takes a lot of legwork in this business to find the next underground sensation. My discovery of Eliza and The Strange, however, was the happiest of accidents that have turned into an obsessive listening binge that, for the last 72 hours, has nearly kept me from sleeping. Recently, I was intrigued by the new “voodoo-rock” band from Nova Scotia. That intrigue has turned into an obsession and a new favorite band.

Eliza and The Strange are a creepy voodoo-rock five-piece from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a dark sound that exudes sexiness. Composed of Eliza White (lead vocals and organ), Alex MacAskill (guitar), Ian Bennett (guitar), Jake Seaward (bass) and Kenny Myers (drums), Eliza and The Strange strangle from their instruments a hair-raising groove that would find home in any Tim Burton film. At just more than 30 minutes long, their self-titled debut release drips in sex, fury, dirt and grit, and oozes from the speakers with the same kind of intoxicating rhythms that made songs like “Queer” and “Vixen” super-sized hits for the band Garbage.

“Lady of the Night” is bass-led by Seaward and showcases White’s voice. The guitar riff and chords laid down by MacAskill are simple and catchy and, set against Myers’ cymbal crashes, perfectly encapsulate the feeling of straight power behind White’s breathy vocals.

My favorite track, from the minute I heard it, is the album’s second track, “She Ain’t Pretty.” From the first sound, MacAskill’s guitar riffs are addictive, and the song’s structure is a beautifully clear and brilliant tribute to the Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud dynamic. The rhythms in the song are contagious. White’s vocals are sultry and seductive during the verses, but blast forward as the chorus comes, and mixed with the organ, gritty guitar chords and minimalist drumming, I’m reminded of a Mudhoney-meets-Garbage mash-up. With a lead-single track like this, it’s no wonder that Eliza and The Strange chose “She Ain’t Pretty” as the song for their first music video, shot in a black, white and washed out purple. Scenes of the band performing intermingle with shots of a girl dancing and walking through a cemetery. White and company revel in the dirt and grit that they pull from their instruments.

Wonderfully creepy, “She Ain’t Pretty” is a five-star track and smash single if there ever were one. Bringing together Dead Weather-style vocals and White Stripes-influenced fretwork, Eliza and The Strange make this song an instant classic. To add fuel to the already blazing fire, MacAskill brings the whole house of cards crashing down at the end, letting loose on a blistering guitar riff and solo that tops out chaos-driven drumming and bombshell-basslines.

To continue their voodoo-rock style, Eliza and The Strange come back a few minutes later with “White Lies,” an unforgettable riff-driven song that builds on itself with effects and rhythm. “White Lies” encapsulates everything that’s great about rock ’n’ roll. MacAskill’s bouncy guitar rhythm is rough around the edges and helped along by Myers’ simplistic yet decisive drumming. White’s organ creeps onto the scene with muddy blues notes, and twinkles dimly over MacAskill’s nimble fretwork. With distortion and feedback enough for 10 guitars, MacAskill sets “White Lies” apart from the rest with a subtle attitude that speaks to the versatility and power behind the track.

The last track on the album, “They’ve Got Secrets,” is also the longest. I love the slow, droning bassline, the laid-back drum beat, and vocal set that reeks of blues-rock heritage and attitude. In the two minutes in which White goes full-throttle on her organ, Seaward and Myers share energy on the rhythm section just below MacAskill’s heavy riffs. Bennett, who makes his recording debut with the band on this track, is quick to keep up with MacAskill, injecting his own brand of adrenaline into the song.

“They’ve Got Secrets” is the best way to close out the album, and certainly a track that leaves me wanting more.

The fact that this is the debut album says something to me about the band. Eliza and The Strange are full-throttle all the way through all 30 minutes of this recording. With these 10 songs under their belts, I have high hopes for their future.

The combination of minimalist rhythms and eerily seductive vocals is a winning idea, and on their self-titled debut, Eliza and The Strange take the idea to its most triumphant heights.