There's a spoken word bit buried under the guitars near the end of the first song on Bettie Serveert's great new Log 22 (Palomine/Parasol), a little snippet of what sounds like bandleader Carol van Dyk on a therapist's couch. "When you feel depressed you start to look for reasons why," she explains to the listener. "You develop these scary places that you stay away from ... but eventually every place becomes a scary place."
A lot about the record resembles the notebook of a woman on the verge - from the schizophrenic scribbles and cut & paste text blocks in the liner notes to the lyrics themselves, where the singer talks about indecisiveness and friends she'd be helpless without. On "De Diva," she thanks a lover for understanding her eccentricities, then turns right around and gets insecure: "That's why it's hard to understand why you can take me the way I am and not even change my attitude, but I'll try to change, if you want me to."
But the most confusing thing about Bettie Serveert (that's the name of the band, by the way, and not of a person in it) is how they seemed to slip of the hipster radar. They kind of vanished when they split from Matador, but Log 22 has as much to love on it as Palomine - big driving guitars, tasty hooks, and above all van Dyk's exotically witty voice. Buy the record, already, and help Carol regain some self-esteem. (Serious fans can go one better and check out Did It Again (Palomine/Parasol), a country-bluesish venture by the Bettie spin-off combo Chitlin' Fooks. Van Dyk's collaborator on that one, Pascal Deweze, doesn't have quite the edge of Peter Visser, who co-writes many of Bettie Serveert's songs, but the record is worth a listen.)
If van Dyk's lyrics sound mildly depressed, Deerhoof's suggest an impending hospitalization. Not that they're morbid, mind you - they just don't display a lot of connection to the real world. Here's the entirety of one song on the enigmatically titled Apple O' (Kill Rock Stars/5 Rue Christine): "Leopard fur no store." And another: "China panda, bamboo panda, I like panda, bye bye panda, Panda Road." But this kindergarten poetry makes a lunatic sense when paired with the band's herky-jerky rock arrangements, in which pounding drums and loud guitars are liable to stop on a dime so somebody can plink out a single note on a toy xylophone. Vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki has no musical training and sounds like it, but damned if her naive, breathy wailing doesn't tie the whole thing together.
Liz Phair's main issue, judging from her self-titled new disc on Capitol, appears to be that she would like to sell a few million records. While All Ears would love for a few million people to buy either of Phair's brilliant first two albums, we aren't in favor of her current therapy, which involves hiring Avril Lavigne's producer and making the formerly unconventional rocker sound like every other crappy thing on the radio.
Bourbon Princess sounds like absolutely nothing on the radio, unless you get some magical station that plays a lot of Morphine; that defunct band's saxophonist, Dana Colley, here provides a warm, enveloping baritone cloud for singer Monique Ortiz' tales of urban peril. Black Feather Wings (Accurate Records) is full of discarded lovers, junkies, traffic fatalities and the homeless, all living in a world with considerably less hope in it than the one that existed a few years ago. If the narrators are dead-enders, though, this music might postpone the suicide: emulating Colley's old band, this one tugs like an opiate, the seductive lull of a dark club near closing time where you know the bartender won't be rushing you out the door 'til he's poured three or four nightcaps for himself.
Nina Nastasia is no happier. She begins her new Run To Ruin (Touch & Go) with a song about lovers who share a painful secret and make it worse by their inability to talk about it; by the end of the record, a couple is talking but past the point of hearing each other. As on her The Blackened Air, Nastasia places these portraits in delicate acoustic settings, where lonely strings and the occasional hammered dulcimer flutter and flow around her weary, wispy voice. The music is less ornate than it was on the previous record, but what it loses in aural drama it gains in intimacy. Very slowly, Nastasia's personality is emerging though these records; if she doesn't seem to be in a hurry to foist her whole psyche on us, maybe at least we can look forward to a long getting-to-know-you process. •