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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Red Knife Lottery's Soiled Soul

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Red Knife Lottery opened their debut EP, So Much Drama, with the plotted rape and torture of Travel Channel personality Samantha Brown, paving the way for five more tales of brutality and murder, penned in the vulgar literary style of Edgar Allan Poe and enacted by the terrorizing screams of singer Ashley Chapman.

The Milwaukee band's follow-up record, Soiled Soul and Rapture, isn't quite as sensational-gone are the violent fantasies about ghosts, serial killers and mutilated celebrities-yet in a way Soiled Soul is even more fierce, cutting that much deeper because its stories are grounded in personal experience. The album arrives next month on Uprising Records.

"With our first record, I was just completely making up stories," Chapman explains. "But there's definitely more me in this album, and more of my frustrations."

She pinpoints many of those frustrations to her time waiting tables at Cans, an Axe Body Spray-scented college bar infamous for its grabby clientele. Soiled Soul opens with a pent-up response to the four years of bad pick-up lines and unsolicited drinks: "This skirt's not an invitation," Chapman blusters on "Holy Skirts," fuming, "I'm not going home with you tonight." Those lines could easily double as a warning for any guys in the audience tempted to ogle her on stage.

And so begins the latest in a proud tradition of unsexy albums about sex, a sordid record detailing overzealous liaisons, empty hook-ups and guilty mornings after. "It's not about love tonight," Chapman sings on "Shapeshifter," but the sentiment holds for the entire record.

The "soiled soul" of the album title, then, likely refers to the psychological toll of these encounters, but it's also as apt a description as any for Red Knife Lottery's brand of art-punk, which swings manically between sensuous melodies and biting thrash. With her jazzy, bountiful voice and rabid shrieks, Chapman bridges both sounds, and whenever a song threatens to overheat, guitarist Chris Hansen cools it with spurts of Wurlitzer and Hammond organ.

Released four years ago, before most of the group had hit drinking age, Red Knife Lottery's full-throttle EP merely teased the group's smoother side, but Soiled Soul and Rapture, which the band partially recorded in Dallas with Modest Mouse and Paper Chase producer John Congleton, plays it up when appropriate, juxtaposing heavy riffs with dancey tangents and gospel-tinted breakdowns. This time out Chapman made an effort to also sing softer when possible, partially to showcase her voice, partially to preserve it.

"I try to sing responsibly, but at the end of every concert, I'm usually pretty hoarse," Chapman concedes. Just days before recording the album, "at about 5 in the morning after drinking too much whiskey," she lost her voice altogether.

"I was afraid it was gone for good," she recalls. Though it gradually returned, the scare shaped her performance. "That's why the last song on the album is quieter and smoother than the rest of the album," she explains.

That song, "The Good Land," is one of the album's most autobiographical, recounting a period when the band weighed the idea of relocating to Chicago.

"At the time, two members were living down there already, and the change sounded appealing to us," explains Hansen, but he says in the end kinship and cheap studio space kept the group in their native city, which they named the song after-the Algonquin word for Milwaukee roughly translates as "the good land."

Keeping with the lurid spirit of the record, the song likens the temptation to leave Milwaukee to infidelity. "I'm sorry for the things I said, for the slander that I've spread," Chapman sings, channeling an unfaithful lover. "Let's get back together, you can be my home forever."

Red Knife Lottery shares a 10 p.m. show at the Cactus Club on Thursday, July 2, with The Paper Chase and Call Me Lightning, and plays on Friday, July 3, at 8:30 p.m. at the Cascio Groove Garage at Summerfest.

Photo by Kate Engbring

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