MataHari, Shrine of Counterfeits

MataHari, Shrine of Counterfeits

Passion. Intrigue. Supernova rock and roll? No. Well, yes, if you count CBS’s Rock Star: Supernova.

In all fairness, Boston-based and female-fronted MataHari have probably just run into the wrong, grumpy, anti-pop/”punk”/alternative reviewer for their debut album, Shrine of Counterfeits. While I love a lot of hard-ass female musicians who rock to the high heavens (P.J. Harvey, Diamanda Gal├ís, and even Becky Bondage among these), I’m just not a fan of garbage. Oops — I mean Garbage. Taking that band as a category of music, I’m also referring to most of the new alternative bands made popular on MTV or the Buzz since the year 2000 (Creed may be the best representative to date of popular but unsuccessful melodrama from which I’ve had the displeasure to develop ulcers). As a general rule, I guess I’m disappointed that someone out there thinks that shattering one’s eardrums with a hard lead block of one-dimensional melodrama will move and elevate people to new heights. Melodrama, used well with a self-aware and subtle vulnerability — and with a certain amount of thought and intelligence — can actually do just that; Ms. Harvey, in To Bring You My Love may be one of the best examples. On the other hand, the lead weight of guitar overkill blasted to the nth power doesn’t float as well. As you might expect, it sludgifies one’s brain and burns out the ability to parse sensitive detail or any sense of dynamics softer than a blare.

MataHari draws on all of these iron-hard, frying-pan-minus-the-meat influences and adds a fiery femininity into the mix. That said, I have full faith that the band’ll make it to MTV someday, and that seems to be a level they might be satisfied with. They’ve put together a slick, super-clean, hi-fi studio album with all the right touches, taken on a catchy band name that refers back to an erotic early 20th century figure, found a very hot and exotic Czech frontwoman who can do rockstar melodrama, keep in tune, and self-harmonize in the studio, and incorporated Portishead-esque trippy electronic embellishments as well as well tested ear-shattering overamplified power guitar, and it all adds to MataHari’s appeal to the masses. All an accomplishment, especially for a band taking a recording-before-performing approach for its first album.

I have to issue a warning, however, that this music isn’t likely to make a long-lasting impression, much like a lot of recent alternative rock, unless it moves beyond its single (boring — sorry, guys) dimension. On the way, the band might choose to take on a more sensitive variation in dynamics, read some Rimbaud, cultivate some willingness to back off on that infernal guitar, and tell vocalist Ivona Coufalova to stop straining her voice so much in her passionate rockalepsy. Those towering self-harmonies, used hair-raisingly effectively by Layne Staley of Alice in Chains back in the day, can also benefit from a little curtailing and meaningful dimension, as opposed to being thrown in just for the sake of making the song pop a little more. To Ms. Coufalova’s credit, she has a very beautiful voice that comes out in the album’s last track, “Not Your Puppet,” which is also the only track to use dynamics to any effect by playing through a dark, tripped-out electronic haze. The clear sound of her voice finally rings transparent through the haze and grabs you, an unexpected turn of events.

I still think Shrine of Counterfeits is in all likelihood an earnest effort with specific goals in mind. Good for MataHari. For the deep listener, though, a little like being fed cardboard again. The message: unless you’re an alternative-minded music journalist or deeply into the aforementioned year 2000+ alternative figures (or Rock Star: Supernova), you may want to skip this one.

Finally, for those who don’t know (I didn’t), a look at the band’s very interesting and beautiful namesake. The real Mata Hari was born on 8/7/1886 in Holland, although she claimed to be from India. Having been married from 1898 to 1904, she became a well-sought belly dancer in various Parisian salons in the early 1900s after one of her two children mysteriously died of poisoning. When her belly dancing career began to dither, she turned to prostitution and was equally well-sought by French and German military officers. Both sides enlisted her as a spy, and once discovered, she was placed before the French firing squad in 1917. Beneath all of the sex, passion, and espionage, her story is one of false facades and exaggeration, driven on the outside by rumor and reputation. I would suggest that these are principles a 2000s alternative band would do very well not to mimic in earnest.

(self-released; MataHari --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, August 16th, 2006. Filed under Reviews.

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