by Lydia Lunch
Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Thursday, July 30 1998, 2:01 PM
Matrikamantra consists of two CDs, Harbinger House and Live in Prague. All the lyrics were written by Lydia Lunch, and with one exception, are inspired by the writings of deceased existentialist Franco-Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran.
The studio-produced Harbinger House is the more satisfying CD for Lydia's intimate, murmuring narration amongst a variety of instrumentation and sound. Spanish guitar carries "Solo Mystico." "Psychic Anthropology" has the parlor piano and moans of an old Alice Cooper Goth-opera. The sax-like clarinets in "Itch" convey a desperate L.A. noir. "Escape" drums out sleepily danceable europop for the Gainsbourgeoisie, like a soundtrack to a lost 1970s Emmanuelle movie about death. "Lethe," for which Lunch claims Baudelaire as inspiration, evokes both Madonna's "Justify My Love" and the early 1980s San Francisco avant-garde punk band Tuxedomoon.
"Gravediggers of the Future" rises with radio-friendly Mercury Theater of the Air dynamics, much like The Doors' "Horse Latitudes". Yet Live In Prague has only Joseph Budenholzer's sound designs and Kamilsky's bass and effects to accompany Lydia Lunch. It grows a bit tiring. Ponderous low notes-noodling on the piano move into a 1960s sci-fi TV soundtrack. Most of her vocal performance in Prague is rather one-dimensional; she gets louder and that's about it. At her best moments Lydia commands attention because she echoes the work of stronger female literary rock artists such as Patti Smith and Karen Finley.
Lydia Lunch's lyrics cite solitude, stoicism, corpses and death, but no imagery really sticks. It's more bombastic, in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft's horror than the subtle Romanian pessimist E.M Cioran. Cioran's gnashing aphorisms - "What dates most is rebellion, that is, the most vital of our actions" - grew out of specific sufferings of 20th century history, whereas Lydia just tries to wear the old foreign man's jacket. The American creed "History is bunk" fueled the New York punk cauldron she first help stir, so the knowing weltschmerz of mittel-europa doesn't come naturally to Lunch.
Atavistic/Figurehead Records, 1998