The debut record from Jucifer worms its way into the coldest of cynical hearts by starting out full throttle and then coasting to a close. There is a long downward trajectory in aggression from beginning to end; by the time the record is finished, the band has referenced a handful of powerful, female-fronted bands (Spinanes, Breeders, Hole) even while delving to different textures by throwing in horns, organ, strings and assorted weird sounds.
The Athens, Georgia, duo of singer/guitarist Amber Valentine (there's no way that's her real name) and monster drummer Ed Livengood (ditto) have a well-rounded punch that allows for smart pop to co-exist with primitive rock. There are hints of Southern Gothic interwoven with their blistering punk attack, meaning that even when it sounds like they don't quite know what they are trying to do, it's still kind of scary and evil.
As such, Calling All Cars takes a while to unfold. The record starts with a sludgy, noisy guitar riff on "Code Escovedo," the plodding tempo reinforced by a hard hit, simplistic drum beat. But Valentine draws and drawls out the song's title until it's molded into something resembling a hook. Track two, "Long Live the King," is much faster and sounds like somebody butchering the riff of Mötley Crüe's "Too Fast for Love" until the howling, Babes in Toyland-ish chorus comes in. The question is raised: How the hell is there this much sound coming from just two people? Leaving listeners to ponder that, the group soon moves on, throwing down the unexpected "Nickel to Roll." It's Dr. Dre keyboards and scratching (yes, record scratching) underneath Valentine's cooing, which, remarkably, sounds neither forced nor out of place.
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On the more sedate numbers, Jucifer shows that it possesses as much brains and beauty as brawn. "Malibu," with its double-tracked, little-girl-singing-in-French vocals, starts off, well, kind of pretty. And the paean to former MTV newsreader Tabitha Soren, "Model Year Blowout," has a snaky distorted lead guitar line, but it's mostly acoustic guitars and loveliness. The crunch and punch of the guitar comes in and out, and Valentine has backed down, singing as if she never had to yell. In a different climate, it could even be a surprise radio hit. Similarly, "The Movements of Swallows" (a first-person ode to Ginger of Gilligan's Island), starts acoustic and builds up to a full rocker, but by the end dissolves into two minutes of bleating horns and studio-trickery washes of noise.