Graded on a Curve:
Lida Husik & Soma Allpass, “Future Ghosts of America”

Since debuting way back in the late ’80s longtime Washington, DC denizen and current resident of Portland, OR Lida Husik has accumulated a rich and extensive discography, but she’s been all but unheard from in our current century, a circumstance making her new EP in collaboration with Danish cellist-vocalist-composer Soma Allpass very welcome. Happily, its four songs don’t disappoint; providing a fresh example of Husik’s extensive use of studio as instrument and adding to Allpass’ lengthy list of credits, it’s out now digitally through HusikMusik.

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lida Husik made her debut as Red Emma on State of the Union, a various artists LP assembled and released in 1989 by Dischord as a benefit for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Community for Creative Non-Violence. Loaded with post-hardcore bands hailing and wailing nearly entirely from the nation’s capital, it’s an album well-remembered by this writer, and Husik’s pretty folk ditty “Candle” stands as one of its highlights.

Placed in the comp’s penultimate spot, her song definitely contrasted from the heaviness surrounding it, but rather than sticking out like an achy appendage it served as a fine complement to a music community in transition. And it was through DC associate Don Fleming (Velvet Monkeys, Gumball) that Husik was introduced to Mark Kramer; her first LP Bozo came out in 1991 via the NYC-based musician and producer’s Shimmy Disc label.

It delivered refreshingly non-standard pop songs with smart rock and psych flourishes, and the use of samples (notably in “Farmhouse” the gravelly voice of Louis “Red” Deutsch of Tube Bar prank phone call infamy) quickly established a tendency to explore the studio environment’s full potential. While not exactly novel, at the time sampling was still a distinctive tactic, if one familiar as a Kramer production strategy; two more LPs quickly followed for Shimmy Disc, Your Bag in ’92 and The Return of Red Emma the next year.

Switching to Caroline, ’95 brought Joyride, a strong disc spiked with a cool cover of The Dentists’ “Strawberries are Growing in My Garden (And It’s Wintertime).” It was during this period that a collaboration with UK techno artist Beaumont Hannant commenced, the partnership producing the “Evening at the Garage” EP in ’94 and Green Blue Fire (under the moniker Husikesue) in ’96.

As early entries in the Astralwerks roster (the fledgling label initially a subsidiary of Caroline), they found Husik branching out from what had been up to that point a fairly guitar-based approach. Sidestepping shallow hybridization, both were quite successful and somewhat underappreciated mergers of pop song craft and assorted electronic motifs.

’96’s Fly Stereophonic, the first of three discs cut for the Alias label, briefly returned her to a guitar template as ’98’s Faith in Space found her in tandem with Hannant once again as the pendulum swung back toward techno; it and ‘99’s Mad Flavor are recommended for trip-hop/ electronica fans not already hip to Husik’s stuff through the Astralwerks connection.

And then the recorded output all but stopped; prior to this EP, the 21st century has been graced with only one Husik song, though it’s a significant one. As is her norm, “Nuclear Soul” saw Husik playing everything except drums, which in this instance were handled by Jerry Busher (Fidelity Jones, All Scars, Fugazi, French Toast), who also recorded and produced in his basement.

Although her music clearly thrives on dialogue with those assisting in its creation, “Future Ghosts of America” is the only occasion, apart from her work with Hannant, where co-billing has resulted; listening to the opening title track, it’s not difficult to see why. Beginning with a short prelude of vocal harmony more than a bit reminiscent of Petra Haden’s a cappella stuff, the rudiments of the piece behind it consist of Husik’s acoustic guitar and Soma Allpass’ cello.

Alongside theatrical work and chalking up a slew of guest spots, Allpass is half of the experimental cello duo Soma & Lil, and she’s also made a few records under her own name, with ‘07’s Sway co-produced by the cellist with Husik’s old pal Kramer. Over a decade prior, Allpass appeared on ’96’s Tattoo of Blood by Captain Howdy, a group featuring Kramer, noted magician-talker Penn Jillette, and on two tracks the vocals of Deborah Harry.

Once she’d heard Allpass play and sing Husik suspected they’d sound great in collaboration, and she was right; the finished EP flows very naturally, the title cut particularly benefiting from the rich warmth of Allpass’ tone, Husik’s deft picking and the sustained intermingling of voice. But as said, the bedrock of the album dates back to one day at Hugh McElroy’s Swim-Two-Birds studio in ’05; a series of enhancements since have elevated matters to their current form.

Husik moved to San Francisco in ’07, where Peter Craft added drums to “The Navigator,” a track inspired by the Buster Keaton classic of 1924 (indeed, as the music neared release the working title of the song was “Buster”). The tune is anchored by solid post-Morricone guitar, with piano also added to the choruses during her stay in the Bay Area; however, the majority of the EP’s augmentation came after Husik moved up to Portland in 2010.

Once there, she began recording at Two-Track Mind, a studio belonging to former DC resident Seth Lorinczi (Vile Cherubs, Circus Lupus, Corin Tucker Band, Quails); eventually, the drums of Sara Lund (Unwound) and the bassoon of Danielle Goldman completed “Future Ghosts of America,” the track combining vibrant chamber elements and crisp pop of a singer-songwriter persuasion.

The latter is even more in evidence during “The Navigator” through a sauntering vocal; it’s worth noting that in her early work Husik reliably sounded older than her years, but now with just a touch of sophistication, her artistry unfolds with maturity and natural warmth. This shouldn’t imply that she’s creeping up on fogeydom; to the contrary, “Navigator Remix” shows a persistent interest in studio-based realignment, though the result here somewhat recalls Mark Robinson’s numerous Teen Beat remixes over her partnership with Hannant. In the selection’s favor, Allpass’ cello remains prominent.

“And Let the Rain” is also a remix of sorts, the track spinning out from a Husik and Allpass creation titled “Top of the World,” and its gradual drift, which personally resonates a bit like Kendra Smith’s work on the Guild of Temporal Adventurers EP (but that just might be due to the topic of precipitation), ends this belated return on a high note.

Does “Future Ghosts of America” assuage Husik’s long absence? Due to its brevity, only somewhat, but it’s definitely an attractive batch of tunes. Fret not though, for there is word of progress on a full-length. Hopefully it will get a physical release and offer further input from Allpass.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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  • antiwar7

    Glad to see Lida back in the game! The new songs sound good.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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