MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Alice TM, Sarah McQuaid, ONETWOTHREE

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Alice TM is described as the queer, art-pop project of Alice Tolan-Mee, an artist who’s worked in experimental theater and performance art as well as music. Her debut album, Little Body in Orbit (Whatever’s Clever) is an album that delves into the twists and turns of love; new love, queer love, or as Alice vividly describes it, “Sticky love, tumbling and joyful love, slutty love, and violence in love.”

It’s a range in perspective that nicely bookends the album, which opens with the skittering, giddy pleasures of “Generous” and its celebration of newfound bliss (“I will bathe in you completely”) and concludes with a slow, sad unraveling in “Wedding” (“You don’t wrap your arms around me”). Tolan-Mee’s high-pitched voice gives the songs an ethereal cast. And though the music is electronically based — cool synths and percussive pops — it’s not austere or remote, but beguiling and seductive. From a relationship mired in inertia (the aptly-named “Passive”) to the erotic delights of “Contact Electric,” this is a record pulsating with the excitement of making new discoveries, and learning from them. Dive in.

When the pandemic led to musicians around the world cancelling their shows, Sarah McQuaid decided to capture a live performance without the presence of an audience. The St Buryan Sessions (Shovel and a Spade Records) is the result – sixteen songs recorded at a medieval church in St. Buryan, a village in Cornwall, England. It’s a place that McQuaid, as a member of the church’s choir, knew well. She and her producer, Martin Stansbury, decided to set it up as if she were playing an actual concert, following a setlist, and playing straight through, with minimal breaks.

Songs like “The Sun Goes on Rising,” from McQuaid’s 2012 album The Plum Tree and The Rose, have a new resonance now, with lyrics about holding onto hope through the bad times (“I’m marking down the time/’Til I can get to a better place”). Similarly, “The Silence Above Us,” from her 2018 album If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, is a perfect depiction of the isolation and uncertainty that descended upon the world last year.

McQuaid’s voice is deep and slightly husky, imbuing her songs with a haunting melancholy, underscored by the spare instrumentation (she variously accompanies herself on acoustic or electric guitar, piano, and floor tom). “The Day of Wrath, That Day” is a lovely instrumental; the standard “Autumn Leaves” turns out to be perfect for her voice. Already a compelling release, the concert was also filmed – there’s a short doc about the making of the release, as well as live videos of each track, on McQuaid’s YouTube channel.

ONETWOTHREE (hereafter OTT) have the spare, taut sound of post-punk groups like the Delta 5, the Au Pairs, and Kleenex (aka LiLiPuT) — which is no surprise, as Klaudia Schifferle was a member of Kleenex. Fellow bandmates Madlaina Peer and Sara Schar were also members of the Swiss punk scene in bands like the Noknows and TNT. In cheery defiance of convention, they didn’t let the fact that they’re all bassists stop them from putting a band together. And they do work in other instruments on their debut album for Kill Rock Stars (it’s officially untitled, but the band’s name is on the cover); scratchy guitar, keyboards, the persistent beat of a drum machine.

“Perfect Illusions” opens the album with a touch of pop swing. The relentless drive of “Buy Buy” makes you think it might be a critique of consumer culture, at least until you’re thrown a loop with absurdist lyrics like “We want flowers from outer space!” This is an element that’s at the heart of OTT’s work. The songs might seem deceptively simple on the surface, but there’s enough of an edge (especially in the sharp, often tense vocals) to make you wonder what’s going on underneath the surface. “Give Paw,” for example, has a sinister synth line and stern demands: “Give paw! Obey! Do as I say!” “Fake” rages against all that’s fraudulent around us. This is an album that taunts and teases, and, at 35 minutes, leaves you wanting more.

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