Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers, Teenage and Torture

Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers, Teenage and Torture

More than anything else, Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers’ Teenage and Torture makes me think of a dimly-lit, half-remembered night spent trawling through the seamy, sordid underbelly of some grimy, unnamed Big City, full of pain and lust and exploitation. The album feels less like, well, an album and more like a travelogue of sorts, a guided tour to everything dark and shameful men do in the dark.

I should note, by the way, that I mean the “men” bit above specifically — there’s a lot on Teenage and Torture that seems (from what I can understand of frontwoman Ray’s half-yowled/half-muttered vocals) pretty damning towards men as a whole and towards men who prey on women in general. It’s hard not to feel a little dirty and ashamed listening to lead-in track “Hookers,” for one, which shifts between a murky, menacing stomp and a sultry, alluring (yet fake) come-on. When Ray demands “click on me, boy! click on me!”, I can’t help but cringe.

The same goes for “Genie’s Drugs,” to give another example; the meandering, accordion-tinged, almost Floydian psych-garage seems to offer a resigned accusation, with Ray declaring somberly, “You can’t be a sinner / when you think that all you do is right.” And hey, there’s the song titles themselves, like “Stick It To The Woman,” “Dames A Dime A Dozen,” and “Erotolepsy.” After a while, I’m left feeling a little bit like I did in the Chaucer class I took back in college that happened to be taught by a very feminist-leaning professor (and in which I was the lone guy).

This isn’t all to say that Teenage and Torture is in any way bad, mind you. If I can turn my brain/collective male guilt off somewhat, the album is one hell of a roaring, fiery romp through those aforementioned seedy streets. Ray herself leads the way with her rough-edged, husky vocals, which swing between heavy-lidded wooziness (“Requiem In A Key I Don’t Know”) and frenzied howl (“Stick It To The Woman”), coming off like a more bluesy Karen O or an electrified Chan Marshall. She keeps you on your toes, never certain whether she’s going to whisper sweetly or take a swing at your head.

As for the music, it’s raw, dirty-sounding blues-punk that owes as much to the Ramones as it does Phil Spector-style girl groups; there are parts where Teenage and Torture makes me think of a slowed-down, drugged-out Distillers, but really, you have to grab further back than that for a true comparison, back to the Rough Trade heyday or to NY No Wave. Ray and her Hookers are at their best when they cut loose, as on “Stick It To The Woman,” which is snarling and overfuzzed beyond belief, riding a bumping, stair-stepping bassline and UFO-on-fire keys to heights like those I’d always figured the Doors might reach (before I realized they were way more tame than that).

“Liquidation Sale” works similarly well, all frantic desperation and ticking-clock rhythms beneath Ray’s gut-punched yowl and the occasional left-hook of gorgeously lush melody. And yeah, the whole time I am still thinking about what it (might) all mean and feeling weirdly uncomfortable, but fuck it, I don’t care. When it’s done, I just want to take Ray’s tour of the dirty city streets all over again.

[Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers are playing 4/20/11 at Fitzgerald’s, along with Acid Mothers Temple & ST37, and also 5/3/11 at Fitzgerald’s, along with Man Man.]
(Knitting Factory Records -- 281 N. 7th St., #2, Brooklyn, NY. 11211; http://www.knittingfactoryrecords.com/; Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers -- http://shilparay.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, April 20th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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2 Responses to “Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers, Teenage and Torture

  1. Stephen on April 20th, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Well written review there! Just two thoughts (okay, places where you’re slightly off):

    Shilpa isn’t some femonazi man-hater (if there are such creatures in the rock n roll world). She seems to like men just fine. But her heart’s been stepped on and she spent years stuck in blue-collar drudgery and she sometimes writes about those things. (Hey, Stick it to the Woman is all about a rich woman customer beating up on the salesgirl who tries to serve her, not a guy-bad thing at all.) So set aside that old guilt from your college years. But feel Ms. Ray’s pain and shame.

    Oh, and it isn’t an accordion. It’s called a harmonium. Kind of a cross between an accordion and an organ, pumped manually. It’s traditional among Indian singers, and Shilpa was trained in classical Indian singing before she got all bluesy. If you went to see her after writing this, you’ll see what I mean. One heck of a hard-working front woman!

  2. Jeremy Hart on April 20th, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Hey, Stephen — no, no, I didn’t figure she was any kind of man-hater, not at all; it’s just that what I could understand of the lyrics seemed to be pretty much about women in bad, bad situations. But heck, I’m glad to hear that it’s not *quite* as much the fault of the male gender as I’d feared.

    As for the harmonium, that makes sense — on the album, sometimes it sounds like an accordion and sometimes like an organ, so I’d wondered what the heck was going on. Very cool…

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