Checkered Past

Paul Wallfish (Botanica mastermind) made an excellent first impression on me. It was October of last year, and Wallfish was the touring keyboard/tambourine/maracca player and crowd-inciter for Firewater when they pulled into Tallahassee. Now, every member of Firewater had their own distinctive aesthetic, but I was entranced by Wallfish. Not only was he debonair and adept at striking a pose at the lip of the stage, but halfway through the set, he grabbed his maraccas and charged the audience. He danced all around the club; I thought he was a madman. I called him the “Bez” (see Happy Mondays) of Firewater, but after hearing Malediction , I have to let that nickname go. Goodbye, sniff.

Botanica IS Wallfish, along with brief appearances by Daniel Ash, Kid Congo Powers, Abby Travis (I like him already), and Daniel Glass, among many others. Besides the stellar cast list, it is even more impressive that Wallfish’s musical vision is still the central focus of this record, despite the endless list of confederates. This is his record all the way.

Which brings me to my next rant. On first listen, I was confused by the sonic resemblance to both Firewater and Congo Norvell. But it’s a chicken-and-egg theory, does Botanica sound like Firewater/Congo Norvell or do Firewater and Congo Norvell borrow a few tricks from Wallfish, an occasional member of both? No matter, there is more than enough room for all of them.

Malediction is cabaret-pop of the highest order, cultured and sleazy simultaneously. The faster, bluesier numbers like “Dead Prophet,” “Big Big World,” and “Castration Tango” are cut from the same cloth as Firewater’s “Isle of Dogs.” Not quite my cup of tea, but enjoyable. I’m much more interested by the grander, torch-song gestures of this record. The late-night falsetto and muted keyboards of “Fire” give way to an epic rock-song chorus. “Beauty” manages to be both sincere and sinister, and a model of quiet musical restraint. The song that I keep playing over and over again is “Middle of the Night.” I’m obsessed, it reminds me of The Divine Comedy and I want to hear Scott Walker cover it so badly. There’s this one lyric, “I want to spit in your mouth,” and somehow he makes it seem touching. For that song alone, buy it!

Checkered Past Records, 1456 North Dayton, Suite 295, Chicago, IL 60622

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