Monday, May 04, 2009

Just say that Joe sent you: The backroom aural sex of Vanessa Daou (Inside Entertainment, Canada)

Just say that Joe sent you

The backroom aural sex of Vanessa Daou

Electro-beat poetess Vanessa Daou made a name for herself back in 1995 with the release of her debut solo album Zipless. The jazztronic curio was a white hot fusion of sultry beats, cool jazz and the lovelorn eroticism of Erica Jong's poetry. On subsequent albums, Daou earns a reputation as a downtempo queen, whose seductive musical exotica could be affectionately dubbed "aural sex."

Inspired in part by a backroom tour of New York's 21 Club (a one-time speakeasy during the Prohibition days), Daou's self-produced new album, Joe Sent Me, is a rediscovery of Prohibition-era jazz. The album draws upon the era's sound as well as the shady goings-on perpetuated by speakeasies and the underhanded dealings with the laws of both the land and the heart.

"What strikes me the most about the Prohibition era," Daou told Inside E, "is how the music broke through racial, gender, legal and ethical barriers, and how it continued to cut its radical path through the '40's and '50's and into the '60's when Beat poets began to merge words with Jazz."

On an album where grime and elegance rub shoulders, Daou fosters a musical space where her electro-grooves and acoustic set-ups coalesce. Daou's ghostly vocals billow and swirl like a thick, phosphorous dream; they don't so much inhabit the songs as haunt them, spilling over into sonic atmospherics.

Proving she can still sway the masses on a dancefloor, Daou showcases her knack for serious beats. Replete with a horn section sounding from beyond the grave of some red-light district of yore, the track Black & White throbs like a palpitating heart, cellophane-wrapped in a punchy synth-glam sheen. It also sports one of the spikiest f*ck-off lines to ever grace a pop song. "Here's the pen you gave me to write my poetry; I said I'd give it back to you the day you stopped inspiring me."

On Hurricanes (a track indebted to the avant-garde poetry of Anne Waldman), the cut-up phrasings of Daou's mosaic poem languidly plays catch-up with the percussive loop of a hand slapping the thigh. It's a album of jazz, for sure, but the aesthetic at work here is almost punk; sound and poetry are layered like graffiti.

"What interested me," Daou explains, "was, in an inverse way, freeing poetry and language from music. This approach was inspired by my web meanderings where I would be listening online to spoken poetry in one window and music on YouTube in another. When I began to conceive the sound of Joe Sent Me, I was hearing a new kind of sonic landscape where the words merged with the music without being locked into it or too syncopated with the beat, the way an overheard conversation sounds when music is playing."

Daou also tackles R&B, offering an alien twist to an often tired genre. Many of the songs depict love at a haunted crossroad where sex and death intersect, and Daou explores the anachronisms of desire, role-playing the aggressor in a relationship in which she has been victimized. The approach is always understated and a sense of mystery fills every space on the canvas. Joe Sent Me is an album shrouded in the blue haze of a back-alley nightclub where its lonely patrons rove the city nights in unrest.

- Written by Imran Khan
- Inside Entertainment, Canada, April 2009


anjibee said...

congrats! and wowza is that a hot portrait of you...

Michelle said...

I've been listening to Joe Sent Me again and again.