The band's sobriquet alone lets you know that the Passive Aggressive's music is not going to be Top 40, and the very first cut carries an unusual guitar / keyboard ostinato, lead line pulling the atmosphere to the side of New Wave, alt pop, grunge, and indie blending an alternatingly sweet, sassy, weird, and nervous atmosphere that never lands squarely in any identifiable mode. To nail this quartet down isn't easy. There are aspects of Missing Persons, Pere Ubu, Nick Cave, a more energetic and arch Lisa Germano, Thin White Rope, Random Hold, and various periphery ensembles; thus, the idea of transcending market and critical norms is a given.
The PAs toss in a lot of ornamentation that's splotchy but highly attractive, an illustrator's method of opposition and augmentation, the main colorists being guitarist Jose Santiago and keyboardist Karen Gaiser. Santiago displays an unusual approach to his instrument, often avoiding the usual blanketingly omnipresent airs for a sparer presence, occasionally almost classical (Slice It Away) but always abnormal and aesthetic, prefering nuance to strident statements. When he wishes to heavy down, though (as is the case in the latter part of the 15-song release), hoo boy!, can this cat wring that neck. Gaiser handles the lead vocals, occasionally suffering a trifle in sameyness, nicely contrasted when passionate and urgent, but well represented in whole.
The cover of the Turtles' Happy Together is a bizarre element, requiring appreciable divorcing on the listener's part, away from 60s sweetcake confectionation and into a hybrid of MTV and almost Marilyn Manson-ish fragmentation and crunch. Multiple listens cement the jagged focus more securely, and, unlike the later cut Just Believe, the refrain never resolves into the original's anthemic intent, reversing the writers' prepubescent joy into a form of knowing nihilism. Well, catch the postcard shot in the mailer promo of Gaiser in a leather bustier, and some of the reason becomes clear. This isn't a photo op session for the Spice Girls nor a Shania Twain glucose fest, more a theater of post-Beat and supra-chart angst and disappointment, emotions all too appropriate to the times.
Oh, and if anyone out there is at all familiar with the very obscure RPM (appeared for a pair of releases on two major labels [Warners, EMI] but didn't catch Break One when it came to critical review), One More Look and several other cuts are very much in that cool vein—hard, melodic, mainstreamy, and outside, all at once.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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