Lakookala - Songs for ZeMean
Here’s a great debut! This record was a huge surprise for me in the fall of last year, and I’ve found myself putting it on a few times a week for the last 3 months. It’s a very short EP, clocking in under 13 minutes, but it’s a dozen minutes that I’m compelled to experience again and again.
Lakookala is a solo effort of drummer and vocalist Nicole Ranalli (Nico), who fronted Pittsburgh’s Medic Medic before relocating to LA. While Medic Medic was a fairly conventional band working in rock and punk idioms, Nico’s solo writing unites a range of dark and dramatic styles with exceptional vision. Other reviews of this record namedrop PJ Harvey and Corin Tucker, and I can hear the resemblance, but I’m hearing deeper and darker influences in this music. For me, it evokes that short-lived window in the early 80s when punk and pop influences collided in goth drama: post-punk and No Wave, those late Birthday Party EPs and early Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds albums, Suicide and Lydia Lunch. All of that music happened “before my time,” but I got really into it in the early ‘oughts, fascinated by that moment’s particular blend of melodic sensibility and reckless love of noise/texture.
The first moment of Songs for ZeMean dives headfirst into that vibe, with an obscene guitar stab played by Phil Anderson Blythe that sounds like it could have come from a Birthday Party album. Then Nico’s drums enter, keeping more of a tribal-meets-playful figure than a “normal” beat. Then the vocals: in most places, Nico employs at least 2 voices at a time, sometimes overdubbing herself and sometimes with backing vocals from Blythe. The song form of “Bad Timing” wastes no time with verses and choruses, progressing instead through melodic variations that build in intensity, finally abandoning lyrics altogether for the last 40 seconds with a primal vocal/drum workout bathed in reverb. In little more than two minutes, this song makes a bold impression.
Most of the album continues to avoid verse/chorus repetition, composed instead of evolving riffs or sustained textural ideas over which vocal melodies can emerge organically. The exception is the 2nd track, “Mother Biiiirds,” whose piano/guitar-driven blues reminds me of early Siouxsie and the Banshees. “Bad Timing” is my favorite track, but the lead track on the B-side, “Without You,” is a close second. It features a sparse but capable arrangement, carried by drums and voice for its first half, and supplemented with a forceful piano riff in the 2nd half. Occasional distorted mellotron and synth lines are scattered on the album as the perfect ambient punctuation, but it’s remarkable how forceful these songs come across with so little orchestration.
I’m not the best fellow to ask about lyrics, as I find myself so focused on other aspects of music that I rarely even catch the words. Briefly, though, these lyrics focus thematically on “relationship issues,” and are conceived thoughtfully enough to satisfy me. Nico, one might suspect from the lyric sheet, has been wronged a few times: a dangerous prospect for future suitors if she can turn their routines into music like this.
Regarding formats: this album is available from the usual e-music outlets, but while there might still be some available, I want to mention the availability of a small run of 300 copies of the album on 10” pink vinyl. Like the music, the packaging is a very personal affair, with a hand-screened jacket and handwritten copy for the liner notes and lyrics. I took a picture of the vinyl package to run with the review instead of using a stock image, because it’s a really well-done record. Check the Lakookala Bandcamp page for any remaining copies.
I only wish this record was much longer than five songs in 13 minutes. Many folks have been putting out debut EPs in the last decade, but I really like to jump headfirst into full lengths. But to the extent that these shorter records function as “teasers” while artists start gigging and touring, this one has obviously succeeded, as I’m incredibly curious to hear what comes next.