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The Family Swan

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Album Review

Far too many bands utilize the human voice in one of two ways: to get a message across — whereby meaning trumps sound — or as an instrument in and of itself — whereby sound trumps meaning. But Mecca Normal's Jean Smith, who is also a novelist, has stories to tell and the instantly arresting means to get them across. In that sense, she's a bit like Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker — but with even more of an edge — and with a greater emphasis on folk than rock & roll. At times on The Family Swan, as in the song "What About the Boy," she comes across more like a punk poet than a singer (à la '70s-era Patti Smith); on others, as in "In January," her voice is as much an instrument as partner David Lester's eclectic electric guitar (à la Laurie Anderson or Sheila Chandra at their most avant-garde). Either way, she's always impassioned, never complacent — even after over 20 years "on the job" (as it were). This can make for an uneasy, unsettling experience — like reading a book by Virginia Woolf instead of Jane Austen or watching a movie by Catherine Breillat instead of Nora Ephron — but a richly rewarding experience for the more adventurous, open-minded listener. ~ Kathleen C. Fennessy, Rovi


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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The Family Swan, Mecca Normal
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