April 28, 2002

Transistor Six "Johnny, Where's My Purse?"

Okay, I'll confess, the first time I heard this record, I didn't like it at all. In my mind, there's nothing worse than calculated quirkiness and forced humor. At first listen, I couldn't bear to listen past the second track. While the "Intro" is a lovely, inconsequential little instrumental passage, the next song, "Little Joe Your Head's Too Big" made me take an express dislike to this record. Modest Mouse is bad enough, and a British version of them seemed to be just way more than I wanted to deal with at the time. Having to give the record the benefit of the doubt, I continued to "The Neasdon Poisoner," which started off with a slight Cocteau Twins/Trembling Blue Stars instrumental passage. Then Frances Castle--who IS Transistor Six--started to sing.


I set this record aside in the hopes of finding someone to review it, yet, for all the praises I read for Johnny Where's My Purse, I couldn't quite--well, I couldn't get it. I couldn't figure out how this record could get good reviews. After all, in my mind, it wasn't a very good record. Still, I was intrigued. Why couldn't I like this record? IT wasn't that the music itself was bad; for a lo-fi record, it actually sounds really good. Frances seems to know what she's doing, so last week, I decided it was time to sit down with Johnny and give them another chance.

My first experience with this record, though nearly a month past, led me to skip straight to song number four, "elgar v the smoke alarm." Starting with a clicking, cutting electronic beat, the song seemed to go nowhere. Then, in mid song, the tempo changed, and, off in the distance, Stewart Anderson (boyracer and steward ) began to sing. My ears perked up for a moment; hey, this song wasn't half-bad! Having been uplifted somewhat, I felt a lot less uptight about listening. Maybe this record had something good to offer.

Then it happened.

When "I Collect Plastics" came on, I wasn't really expecting to hear the Lee Marvin-esque vocals of Sexton Ming. His growling, gravelly, rough voice over some nonsensical, slightly surrealist poetry really struck a nerve with me, and that nerve still cringes when I hear it...but it's a good cringe, mind you. It's a fun little tune that seems so out of place on the record.

The rest of the record continues in the electronic folk/blues/beat direction, to varying degrees of success. Castle's problem isn't one of having too many styles, but of not having a good foil to help her refine and solidify some of her ideas. There are numerous collaborations on Johnny, Where's My Purse, with atmospheric folk-rockers the Iditarod, a remix of a Printed Circuit tune, and poetry by Jesse Todd Dockery. Other than the poetry bit which reeks of Harold Budd (who can't get away with it either), her collaborations stand out among her own original work, and these songs seem to have a dimension the others don't have.

Despite its flaws, Johnny, Where's My Purse is not a bad album, thought at times it does seem to run together monotonously. Realizing that this is Frances' debut album, perhaps this is not so indicative of her ability to write a song, but more of an indication that she's in the process of finding a distinct style. It's clear from listening to Johnny, Where's My Purse that Castle is an artist who has the ability to produce a top-notch album, once she clearly defines who she is as an artist.

--Joseph Kyle

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