No Bra - Candy

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2013-09-27

New York based performance artist and musician Susan Oberhoffer, aka No Bra, is an enduring cult figure on the queer/alternative scene. Formally based in London but now residing in New York, Oberhoffer's music is by turns sinister and hilarious, confrontational and affirming, offering a sometimes jaw-dropping view of a life lived on the margins, always seemingly on the edge of utter madness. Musically, No Bra mixes scrappy post-punk, sledgehammer electro, creepy ambient soundscapes and Oberhoffer's Nico-on-the-night-bus monotone to create something that's part Chris Morris Blue Jam sketch, part urban nightmare.

Often Oberhoffer's greatest strength is the way she combines her queasy sounds and chilling, dead-eyed vocal with comically mundane, everyday detail. Witness 'Construstion Worker', in which she propositions the object of her affections thus: "I fuck the law/ I fuck biology/ Why can I fuck you in the loo?" How could he resist?

Another lyrical trope of Oberhoffer's combines the well-worn 'dear diary' style with the verbatim recitation of a conversation. A great example of this is 'Date with Devil', on which she recounts a romantic encounter with the Dark Prince over a rudimentary guitar strum. Brilliantly, it turns out the devil is even more confused, self-absorbed and insecure than she is.

Like No Bra's fantastic 2005 poser smack-down 'Munchausen', the scene is played out like a scattershot conversation between two overcompensating hipster-types, each confession revealing nothing more than extreme navel-gazing on both sides: "The devil asked me 'Play me one of your songs'. I said, 'Well they're not really songs, more like show-tunes'. The devil said, 'Never mind, I fuck you anyway. Did you go to drama school? Well, so did I. It was really bad, I just didn't know how to play women...'"

Ultimately, the devil confides in her that he'll believe in anything, plus he only became the devil in an attempt to over-compensate for his shyness and lack of masculinity. It really is a terrific piece of writing, funny and surreal, Oberhoffer's wired, caffeine-freak delivery forcing you to pay attention.

Another great track is the opening 'Minger', which couples the most conventional music on the album with its weirdest lyric. Oberhoffer drones "How would you feel if I took your ming away from you?/ It would be so easy oh-oh-oh", going on to threaten to rob someone of their flat and their life. It's hard to work out what's going on here, but like a lot of Oberhoffer's lyrics, she seems to be dwelling on how easily we can be divested of our comfortable, mainstream accoutrements. The tragi-comic image of her victim reduced to hanging around outside a supermarket at 6am, begging passers-by for a fag seems particularly resonant, Oberhoffer drawing parallels between being literally and psychologically on the margins of society.

The clanking, sleazy, broken-down jazz and cool-cat rap of 'Super Subway Comedian', meanwhile, warps the macho street-poet stance of early Gil Scott-Heron or The Last Poets into something weird, disturbing, thrilling and, well, queer. Musically, it brings to mind The Contortions sucked dry of their itchy no-wave energy, suffocated under the heat and trash of NY.

I'm not gonna sugar-coat it, No Bra is a tough listen. Good reference points for the uninitiated are the murky folktronica of (r) and The Knife's recent, more oblique direction. Candy is definitely not for Mumford & Sons fans, which hopefully means it could be a perfect, wonderfully sleazy, funny, smart and scary listen for you.

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