Blue Coupe

John Zorn is synonymous with off meters, semi-obscure source quotes, and academia friendly cadences, harmony and composition, resulting in a sub-genre that practically screams for the musical version of footnotes. Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be an astringent strain in much Zorn-related work, like it's been washed too many times through its makers' admittedly large brain.


But it's on Zorn's very own Tzadik Records femme music offshoot imprint, Oracle, that What Is It Like To Be A Bat? by Kitty Brazelton and Dafna Naphtali bridges the multi-gaps between smart, weird, and passionate while throwing in invigorating doses of funny.


One of the terrific things you can't do with Bat? is describe it very easily. Kitty Brazelton (voice/bass/programmer), Dafna Naphtali (voice/guitar/programmer) and Danny Tunick (drums/keys/recorder, ex-member of indie punkers Guv'ner) call themselves "electronic chamber punk," which doesn't bode well, but is actually mostly accurate. (Paul Geluso appears occasionally to add male voices and mess with the sound mix.)

Also initially off-putting: the CD isn't organized into songs, but rather, Yes-like longish suites arranged numerically, with occasional titles. "She said-she said, 'Can you sing Sermonette with me?"' breaks down into eight "BATches" and one "Trance" while "8-18 Five dreams; marriage" is comprised of ten "arias" and "answers." But play it, and initial uh-ohs diminish quick.

Reviewed by Ian Grey

Bat? opens with a pert flurry of█what-the-hell?█A punk thrash-out switches to female chit-chat, and then to a chorus of madrigals with solo voice scatting phrases like "over and over," over and over, yet.

Right off, you're struck at how Brazelton and Naphtali's four-octave vocalizing is both pretty and slightly scary. Still, if you're thinking: "Oh great█Medieval Babes for grad students," you're sorta right but proven wrong. Also, they perform in black lingerie, which not nearly enough serious composers do these days.

The weird madrigal thing dissolves into a whir of eerie electronics; an Angelo Badelamenti-style rumble of low pulse tones is topped off with what sounds like impossibly long, circular breathing "ahs." Then the band proper breaks into a punk hoedown shuffle complete with girlish hoots.


Just when the hyper-hubbub is verging on too much, things slow down and sparse-out to fuzzy spy movie/Wire-like guitar, distorted bass and drums that show the players' slithery intimacy with one another. A Bat? girl voice sings all Slits-like, "when will you come?" and suddenly you're in the smartest porn movie ever, which is certainly not what one expects when listening to stuff with such a highfalutin lineage.

But the stuff Steve Albini wants to hear comes in the mounting fusillade of slatternly rawk that fills tracks 14 through 17. The compositional fussiness that made earlier parts of the record exciting but would have worn out their welcome for a full CD are thrown gleefully away. It's all fuzzy guitar bass and drums here.

Tunick's beat is skillfully slovenly, his relationship to the groove similar to a drunk's to a lamppost. At one striking juncture, I was brought to mind of Uriah Heep, The Who and Diamonda Galas (not a frequent occurrence). Despite their ties to deep academia (Brazelton's a composer/professor at Bennington College; Naphtali consults at Bard College and at New York University), Bat? attains an almost-falling apart extended rock moment that rivals Mott the Hoople for sheer chaos appeal. Great one-liners such as "hey New York girl -- who does your wash?" slice neatly through any portentousness. In short, Bat? appeals to the John Barthes part of your brain while never forgetting the import of the Jim Carrey section. █August 2003

related links:

"What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" the band

"What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" the CD

Tzadik, the label

Other CDs by Kitty Brazelton

Kitty Brazelton, composer

back to review index