Elevate Difference

Red Rainbows

Sarah Lipstate has all the makings of a feminist noise fan’s dream. At twenty-five, she plays in ensembles with now-graying heroes of New York’s avant garde scene, like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham. She recently joined new wave band Cold Cave after a stint in Parts & Labor. And solo, under the name Noveller, she coaxes ambient drone from a double-necked guitar.

Red Rainbows follows debut album Paint on the Shadows, which was released in a tiny batch of vinyl in April, and its centerpiece “St. Powers” appears on both. “St. Powers” both anchors and overshadows the rest of Red Rainbows, as its pipe organ-like throb and finger-picked chime exudes an Arthur Russell-like resolve that dissonant above-the-frets scratching can’t dampen. Eleven minutes in, what sounds like a thumb piano begins to skid atop the bowed guitar, and the song neatly closes with a gorgeous melody that seems borrowed from Tortoise.

Lipstate constructs a grandiose, Chatham-like lake of guitar fuzz with “Rainbows,” but the tones fade out just as they begin to coalesce into something unsettling. The meandering, metallic chill of “Brilliant Colors” might befit a night flight over a canyon, but sounds aimless on the heels of “Rainbows” and is at its best when its twiddled knobs and sawed strings give way to an irregular beat and occasional silence. On “Bends,” with the help of collaborator (and No Fun founder) Carlos Giffoni, Lipstate mines a repeated shift between a simple rhythm and a cicada-like din. Two repeated notes suggest a table saw whirring under-load. A sing-songy guitar line tantalizingly suggests a broken punk rock record that, with a push of the needle, will break out of its hiccuping sterility.

But the music on Red Rainbows seldom does break out. By far the album’s most patient, evocative, and ambitious piece, “St. Powers” is the only one that doesn’t sound safe in its obtuseness, and is the only piece that routinely threatens to collapse on itself. Red Rainbows might as well be Noveller’s debut to a wider audience, thanks to the minuscule pressing of her first LP, and it makes sense that Lipstate would want that wider audience to hear a standout song—but the album remains perplexing in its structure.

The noise and drone scene has long since been canonized by a cultural patriarchy of aging, ego-laden, middle- to high-brow males; its heroes alternately conduct orchestras at public monuments and rock out to corporate sponsorships. So what is the role of young female musicians?

At times on Red Rainbows Lipstate begins to dismantle her own genre assumptions, many of which rely heavily on masculine codes, but at others she adheres to them to generate barren soundscapes that pass without leaving much of an impression. It’s clear from the album that Noveller is capable of creating discomfiting, urgent, and beautiful music that may be more relevant and inspired than its influences.

Written by: Sam Schulz, December 11th 2009