June 17th, 2011 | Album reviews

If you ever meet Jessie Jones of Feeding People, and talk to her, and hear the softly-voiced compliments she has for anyone who has ever helped her and her collaborator/sweetie-pie Nic Rachman on their road to stardom, you’ll find it difficult to reconcile her shy sweetness with the strong, almost vicious voice that comes out of her on these songs. She works in mysterious ways.  Jones and Rachman met at Sunday school: the first songs they ever played together were in praise of Jesus.  And though they’ve happily escaped the clutches of the Pentecostal faith, there’s still a lot about this music that feels Biblical, especially the nagging notion you get that their music is not coming strictly from them but is channeling through them, that they are the instruments of a higher power.

Whether that power is an angel or a demon or a glitch in the matrix is unclear, but something is going on at the root of this music that is not of this world: explain to me how else a couple 19-year-olds could write lyrics so vividly forlorn, where “my creature eyes gleam like pearls, like a relic afloat in a bottled world?” How else could a 19-year-old bellow blasphemies with a voice that sounds like Billie Holiday, had she lived until the 70s and done even more drugs while hangin’ with Grace Slick and Suzi Quatro? How else could a rock band with an average age of baby lay down a first album as good as this, one that channels the darkest parts of 20th century American music, especially psychedelia and heavy metal, when you know they couldn’t possibly be old enough to know how evocative yet original they are?  Hell, they don’t even seem to know that “Night Owl” was used as a title both by Wilson Pickett and by Lily and the Ladies, and if they did know, they probably still wouldn’t care enough to change it.

To suggest a divine presence is not to discount the sweat, toil, and talents that have led Feeding People out of the Orange County coffee house scene and into the hearts and minds of L.A.’s finest. Besides Rachman and Jones’s songwriting talents, the slightly older, punkier contributions of drummer Mike Reinhart and bassist Louis Filliger have fattened these songs up, given them heavy, hard rhythms that chug and bash and blister.  Add to that the cool organ sprinklings of Jane Reich, with some assists on synth and production by Chris Alfaro of Free the Robots, and you can probably tell God to “sit this one out,” as Jones does on one of the tracks criminally omitted from the album (but still on the Burger cassette!), “The Old West.”

Whether it’s Alfaro, or their newly hired manager, the band itself, or the Burger boys, whoever picked the track listing on the vinyl version of Peace, Victory and the Devil decided to pare things down to the rock essentials.  Great songs all, but omitting some unplugged beauties, these ten tracks seem chosen to help the band appeal to a more specific demographic, though that demographic is fast becoming “everybody,” from Low End Theory stars to Burger beer bust patrons to the doomy metal kids who’ll be in line for Sleep this month.  At one level, this is garage rock, akin to Cosmonauts and Audacity and all the other OC punkers who also record with Burger.  But the music on Peace, Victory and the Devil constantly breaks out of those constraints, not as if it’s struggling but as if it’s shrugging off any concern for rules, as if it’s easy to pioneer a new sound.  And that’s pretty unique for a band that doesn’t fool with such performance-enhancing serums as “second takes” or “multi-track recording.”

Take “Big Mother,” which would be their breakout hit if such things as a “breakout” still existed.  Starting immediately with a fuzzed-out, three-chord, up and down garage riff, the song seems like a killer cut with a clear-cut destination. If Jack White was a gal, this could be classic-era White Stripes, except for the pleasant tremolo-organ effect that suddenly comes in and gets a little louder and.. wait, what the fuck is happening?  A slide whistle blast leads into literal circus music, horribly detuned and evil! And now we’re suddenly back to punk rock, but we’re not—the throbbing beats and feedback now degenerate into an obliteration of delay-pedal loops and a television in the background playing what may or may not be Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

That kind of Dead Kennedys-style psychedelia continues into the next song, “Uranium Sea,” which tempers its spy-garage keyboards with Easy Bay Ray-style bad-trip reverb and Biafra-esque lyrics like “What a golden age, to sell your soul, for free!”  But it gets even weirder on the swampy “Red White, and Blues,” Rachman and Jones’ only vocal duet.  A slow, Strange Boys type number with brushstrokes from the Butthole Surfers and Alice Cooper’s “Black Juju,” this tune has a certain sick Americana feel that gets faster and faster and descends ever downward. In their own lo-fi, original way, it’s a dead-ringer for “Chemical Warfare,” though in all my talks with Nic, he’s never mentioned the Dead Kennedys once.

The band has mentioned their love of Sabbath, and it’s a delight to hear how deep the Iommic influences flow on so many of their songs, from the séance of “Ghost Love” and sexy “Planet Caravan” tones of “Night Owl” to the virtual tribute to “Paranoid” that is “Insane” (though Alfaro’s synths give it a horror-rock feel even spookier than Sabbath sludge).  Also, the staccato plucking on “Creatures” seem to evoke the carnival-like qualities of the Doors at their creepiest, and I have to believe that’s intentional—certainly live, vocally and lyrically, Jones often stands out from the music with a Lizard-King intensity that’s unmistakable.  Their love for Roky Erickson shows up a bit here and there, too, though not as directly: perhaps “Wingading,” with its firm bass line and French Horn, is meant to evoke the trumpety moodiness of the Elevators’ Bull in the Woods, though it’s hard to pay attention to the horn once Jones’ voice comes in to mimic the crazed wah-fueled guitars by Rachman, which sound like a sitar but also like a bagpipe!

There are so many highs and lows on this album, but as talented as all the members are, especially Rachman on guitar, Jones is the fulcrum upon which the rest of the band teeters.  That’s why the simple acoustic ditty “Summertime Dear” will likely be your favorite tune off the album.  Ostensibly a Hope Sandoval-esque love song in which Jones’s character whiles away the morning with her lover dreaming of their old age together, you never quite buy that it’s true—like Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” all the sincere woo-pitching somehow feels like the naivete of the doomed.  Only if you listen closely can you pick out the line about wanting to “keep on running, because we can sleep when we’re dead,” which feels straight out of a poem by Bonnie Parker to Clyde Barrow.

When it comes to the future of Feeding People, I hope that things won’t end as young bands often do, with a barrage of destruction and self-immolation the first time their enthusiasm meets with outside opposition.  And I don’t think they will: honestly, for good or ill, this band seems to be on a collision course for nothing but fame. Someone is watching over them—or perhaps watching them from down below?  As Jones puts it in the album’s opening track, “When I sing my native tongue, it sounds like a devil is dancing over me.”  Whether her voice is channeling spirits, or whether Feeding People is simply a band of spirited musicians all pulling together to make her glossolalia of gloom the official soundtrack for these apocalyptic times, Peace, Victory and the Devil will make you want to stockpile this album and hole up in your bunker to await the band’s next revelation.

-Dan Collins