If your ears have been begging for something different, it's time to check out Iconoclast. A vibrant duo consisting of Julie Joslyn and Leo Ciesa, Iconoclast has been playing and recording together almost 20 years. With their film noir visuals, irreverent humor and fabulously devious imaginations, Iconoclast is a group deserving of its name.
Their two new CDs, The Body Never Lies and The Dreadful Dance, were recorded in 2005 during a four-day marathon at Hoboken, NJ's venerable Water Music studio. The two CDs are similar in that each has about 20 songs in lengths varying from half a minute to over nine; each portrays the duo in black and white faux B-movie stills; and each is an astonishing wealth of sounds and ideas. Joslyn's main instrument is alto sax but she also plays violin, live electronics, copper shawn, kalimba, ocarina, percussion and vocals; Ciesa is a drummer who also plays keyboards, grand piano, kora, percussion and vocals, plus they both play plastic tubes and copper pipes. They have a big paintbox at their disposal and use it extravagantly, cheerfully switching genres from song to song.
On The Body Never Lies, it's quickly apparent that Iconoclast cannot be put in a neat little slot. "A Corrective Jerk" is delightfully frantic avant-garde jazz, with Ciesa unrelenting on drums; "The Lucky Secretary" is unapologetic noise music with electronic screeches and squiggles, like John McLaughlin squared; the half-minute "Jazz Funnies" has a warm Latin feel; "Fly North/Cymbal Song" is a magical and delicate song featuring the aforementioned plastic tubes; "We Should Soon" has a strong, haunting sax and broiling drums, plus eerie electronic echoes; "The Body Never Lies" features screaming vocals from Joslyn; and "The Girl With the Naked Knees" displays Ciesa's menacing whisper. The highlight is "Little Sweet Weak Bitter (Take 2)," a beautiful, spare song with shamanistic percussion work that builds and grows over ten minutes, with the piano jumping in at one point and the sax becoming bold and urgent. Altogether The Body Never Lies is a wild, funky mix.
The Dreadful Dance has a similar wonderful blend. "Cranium Mist" is an aural depiction of a hangover, complete with strange underwater monster noises; "Midday Romp" is a high-energy jazz song, with Joslyn fluid and lyrical on sax and Ciesa full out on the kit; "EKG (Revisited)" sounds like machines screaming; "Hoboken" is lovely and spare, like a Native American flute song; "Crayfish Platter" invokes a fat New Orleans sound, with Joslyn strong and powerful on sax; "L'Orange" is a gorgeous sax solo, a regal, emotive ballad; and there's also "Little Sweet Weak Bitter (Take 1)" which displays all the virtues of its sister version on The Body Never Lies.
There's much to be said for groups who play by the rules. There's also much to be said for those who have no rules. It's sincerity that counts and Iconoclast is entirely sincere - how could they be so playfully serious if they weren't? This is music that stretches the ears and takes unexpected aural plunges. Like the band itself, the listener is never bored and one leaves Iconoclast's music feeling both sated and challenged.
Tracks and Personnel
The Body Never Lies
Tracks: The Body Never Lies; A Corrective Jerk; Little Sweet Weak Bitter (Take 2); The Lucky Secretary; No Wave Bitte; Fly North/Cymbal Song; Jazz Funnies; Beyond the Red Road; We Should Soon; There's People; The Girl With the Naked Knees; Whisper in my Eye; Thunder and Seduction; The Exhibitionist's Dilemma; Community Service; The Fried Dairy Pig; Lot Lizards; Framboise; Tom Colada (Live Version); The Rage is Magic (Live Version); Zappo.
Personnel: Julie Joslyn: alto saxophone, violin, live electronics, vocals, copper shawm, percussion, homemade instruments (plastic tubes and copper pipes); Leo Ciesa: drums, keyboards, grand piano, percussion, vocals, Pro-Mark drumsticks and mallets, homemade instruments.
The Dreadful Dance
Tracks: Cranium Mist; You Know Too Much About Me; Bert Holds Breast; Midday Romp; EKG (Revisited); Insurmountable You; Woman with An Index; Weird Sex; Little Sweet Weak Bitter (Take 1); Hoboken; I Think I Thought; Crayfish Platter; Lonely Courtesan; Dead Dressed Girls; L'Orange; Midsummer Night's Day; The Corrupter; Who's in the Window; Tom Colada; Half Crazy.
Personnel: Leo Ciesa: drums, keyboards, grand piano, percussion, vocals, kora, Pro-Mark drumsticks and mallets; Julie Joslyn: alto saxophone, violin, live electronics, vocals, kalimba, ocarina, percussion.