Home Music Alison Mosshart: Sound Wheel

Alison Mosshart: Sound Wheel

You could be forgiven for thinking that poetry was the new rock ‘n’ roll. Kae Tempest has long straddled the divide between spoken word and rap. Lana Del Rey recently released an audiobook of her forthcoming collection of poetry. And now Alison Mosshart has joined the fray with Sound Wheel.

Best known as the frontwoman of the Kills and the Dead Weather, she’s been involved in extracurricular activities since she first started to exhibit artwork in 2014. Her latest project is a companion piece to Car Ma, a book of photographs, paintings and drawings on the theme of cars and a life spent on the road. It gathers together what she calls a “sculpture of characters and voices” from the publication—whose first edition limited print run sold out in one day in May 2019—with miscellaneous pieces that don’t appear in it.

The end result is clearly influenced by Beat poetry, the cut-up writing technique and gonzo journalism. Equally obsessed with and spectacle of the Great American Road Trip, the tracks are peppered with references to mangled car metal, casinos, smoking and black alligator boots. So far, so clichéd, but she frames these within her experiences as a musician. “Salt Lake City Drag” is effectively a list of her day’s activities—“play a gig, take a shower, make an exit”—while on “Sonic States” she talks about “the guitar we smashed and buried in the desert.” This love of music and art places her in a similar space to the young Patti Smith, with their use of conversational slang being similar on “Let’s Start a Band” and “Sunday Style.”

There are times the wider world tentatively intrudes, but it’s not long before Mosshart retreats to her thematic obsessions. “Last Pack of Holy Smokes” mentions “Women For Trump” before wondering if she’d “better photograph these cars since I’m here,” while “Sexy Pontiac XXX” is a postcard to herself from the countryside in North California in which she ignores the redwood trees to photograph “the ass of a Pontiac.

If the subject matter veers towards the predictable, then the format offers more than straight spoken word. Weighing in at 47 tracks—the shortest nine seconds and the longest just shy of four minutes—the recording is consistently lo-fi and many have the spontaneity of being captured on the go. “Interlude / Chevy Eyes” was seemingly recorded in the back of a car, on “The Distance” you can hear her swallowing and taking a drag on a cigarette and “Talk Talk Talk” opens with her wondering, “How’s this working? If I’m in the car and the radio’s on and the windows are down and the engine’s going, what do we get from that? Are you going to hear me?

This conversational quality, to which her raspy voice lends a lived-in tone, is developed on a handful of tracks. “Interlude / The Storm,” which is recorded against the backdrop of electrical hum, sounds like a cut-up telephone message. “The Electric Sads” pitch shifts her voice into different characters, and “Little Bottle” takes on the voice of three people. Other tracks add atmosphere through musical backing: a guitar that’s being sound-checked on “Talk Talk Talk,” a second vocal line that’s slightly out of synch with the lead on “Pink Whip” and a drum part on “Interlude / In or Out.” These build up to what could be actual song excerpts (the bluesy guitar on “Demon Prince” and the cheerleader style “Vroom Chicka Vroom”) or full-blown demos (“High Performance” and “Returning the Screw”).

In blurring the line between art forms Sound Wheel captures Mosshart’s love of cars, endless highways and being in a band but it’s more of a curio than a life to be lived on repeat.

Clearly influenced by Beat poetry, the cut-up writing technique and gonzo journalism.
40 %
Clichéd curio
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