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Album Review

Featuring Jean Smith on "some guitar" but otherwise sticking to the tried-and-true setup, with Dovetail, Mecca Normal show how time and experience has made its music grow in new and equally compelling directions. Coming out as it did in 1992, Dovetail won some attention in the press concurrent with the public attention given to riot grrrl, but the duo itself wasn't making any bid for stardom, underground or otherwise. Understatement — not chilled restraint, but a careful deliberation — marks much of the album; even more immediately expected thrashers like "Drilling" are punctuated with calmer sections. If anything, Dovetail is noteworthy for its explorations of personal and emotional concerns, Smith's lyrics taking an especially metaphorical and imagistic bent throughout. "Once" is especially compelling, visions of fire, darkness and snow suggesting many possible interpretations. Sometimes it's a touch clunky — "Flashlight" is half-inspired, half-jumbled, though it does have one killer riff — but it's the product of more effort than most groups would be willing to give. David Lester's playing again shows the striking variety he can create out of his solo guitar work; the nervous plucking that begins "Held," the grinding conclusion of "This Machine," all demonstrate the work of a performer challenging himself every step of the way. The key remains a good central melody, though, and he always delivers, from sweet and soft playing ("Cherry Flowers" and "Not Yet" are great examples) to clipped, strong riffing, though on this album that's at a premium. There's a definite parallel to Kristin Hersh's singing at points — songs like the lovely "Throw Silver," which starts Dovetail on a gentle, sad note, and "Once" feature Smith's distinct voice at its warmest. But this is very much Mecca Normal's own effort, and anyone who dismisses the duo as simple noise needs to give this an ear.


Formed: 1981 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Cana

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

A seminal influence on Northwestern indie rock (and especially on the riot grrl movement), Vancouver's Mecca Normal was the bridge between female post-punk primitives like the Raincoats and the Slits -- not to mention Patti Smith's punk poetry -- and the more explicitly political, feminist noisemakers of the '90s. Lo-fi, amateurish, and decidedly minimalist, Mecca Normal was essentially a duo, with occasional studio help; vocalist Jean Smith (also a poet, novelist, and painter) declaimed her stream-of-consciousness,...
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Dovetail, Mecca Normal
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