Mortal Mirror (Kill Rock Stars)
By: Stan Hall
No matter how many shortcomings a band may have, regardless of the half-baked ideas that might "grace" an album, a whole lot of it can be forgiven when there's evidence of original ideas and a distinctive sound. Washington, D.C. trio Quix*o*tic's second album, "Mortal Mirror," is quite weak in spots, but there's a freshness to the band's Nico-fronts-the-Cramps-on-'ludes sound that makes its high points quite enjoyable.
This is a bare-bones batch of songs; a liberal heaping of reverb is about all that passes for a studio effect, and the minimal production gives these songs a sort of timeless quality; they sound new, but it still wouldn't be too hard to convince someone these songs are at least 30 years old. The musical attack, if it can be called that, is willfully rudimentary, as guitarist-vocalist Christina Billotte (formerly of Slant 6 and Autoclave) plays deliberate, basic, scale-based melodies, her sister Mira pounds out simple, charmingly amateurish drum parts, and bassist Mick Barr often just doubles up on whatever Christina is playing. The overall musical ethos isn't too far removed from the indie electric-blues stylings of the White Stripes, but whereas the Whites run the gamut from cool to frenzied, Quix*o*tic is consistently languid. This is both good and bad; while the music is often pleasant, the performances sometimes sound overly relaxed to the point of dullness.
Fortunately, the Billotte sisters are terrific vocalists, and their abundant talent in this area is what ultimately makes "Mortal Mirror" worth hearing (unfortunately, there are two instrumental tracks). The sisters' tones are so similar that it takes the album credits to tell who's singing lead on what track, but imagine Nico with an American accent, hitting her notes correctly, but retaining a sense of the European cool that characterized Nico's most inspired work. The influence of the first Velvet Underground album is quite apparent on the best track, the dreamy "To This World I Must Give In." Another terrific track is "Anonymous Face," which sports a bouncy melody, sweetly na?ve lyrics about romantic confusion and some infectious "whoa-whoas." Mira turns in a gently spooky vocal on the skeletal "The Trees," while Christina sings the hell out of a couple of covers, Billy Stewart's obscure soul great "Sitting In the Park" and the Aaron Neville standard "Tell It Like It Is." Unfortunately, an album-closing cover of Black Sabbath's "Lord of the World" is disappointingly perfunctory and pointless. Still, to paraphrase Meatloaf, two out of three in the covers department ain't bad.
While Quix*o*tic's no-frills pop is somewhat an acquired taste, fans of Goth, rockabilly and plain good singing will find some gems in the imperfect landscape of "Mortal Mirror."
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