Sarah RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins: Crushing
Sarah RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins: Boxing Helena
I love thunderstorms. The senses are heightened. Change comes rapidly, sweeping away serenity and stifling heat. There are wild, unpredictable bursts of energy. The power is awesome, untamed, even a little frightening, and certainly dangerous. I know not to get too close. But I also feel alive.
Listening to Sarah RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins is like that. The storm is an emotional one. But the power is just as real.
RabDAU describes emotional turmoil in her songs. Many have tight song structures, but some contain brief musical outbursts, if you will, moments when the song structure is set aside for a musical motif that appears out of nowhere, and then disappears, never to return. The songs often start quietly, then slowly build to a bursting point, only to subside, and start the build all over again. Crushing, which opens the album, is a perfect example of this.
All of this serves the lyrics perfectly. RabDAU sings about relationships which she dives into with all of her heart, only to find again and again that the object of her passion has not engaged himself so fully. She does not seem able to test a relationship, always giving herself fully, and heartbreak ensues. In Boxing Helena, the fourth song on the album, she finds herself feeling imprisoned in a relationship where her “lover” wants to keep her to admire as an object, but does not love her as a person. This far into the album, I was not sure if the protagonist in the song had been literally dismembered, as in the movie, or if this was just a metaphor. The feelings in these songs are that intense. I was glad that RabDAU clarified the matter by telling of her protagonist’s escape.
The songs are told in the first person, with one exception. Eight songs into the album, RabDau gives us Jackie. Here is a man who started making music forty years ago, and now finds himself with his first hit. The tone here is much lighter than the rest of the album, and the song, falling where it does, functions in almost the same way as a scene of comic relief in a Shakespeare tragedy. I can’t think of another time when song sequencing mattered so much, or worked so well.
RabDAU’s musical influences are fully on display. Most obvious to my ear is the influence of Tori Amos. The arrangements are for voice, piano, and drums, with electronic keyboards and electric guitar used for texture. RabDAU’s voice goes from an impassioned whisper to a high-pitched almost scream, but it never sounds forced. At the lower end of her vocal range, RabDAU can sound like Fiona Apple, but she never stays there for long. And some of those musical outbursts I spoke of earlier sound like they were inspired by Kate Bush. RabDAU’s taste in influences is perfectly suited to her subject matter.
At this point in her career, the most original aspect of RabDAU’s musicality is her use of strings. This is usually a string quartet, and RabDAU uses it almost as a percussion instrument. It’s a powerful effect, and it serves the songs well.
So Sarah RabDAU is an intense artist, who I wouldn’t to listen to everyday, because sometimes it would just be too much. And she is still finding her own voice. But I will look for ward to finding out what she does next.