Beauty Queen Autopsy
Category: Electro / Alternative / Gothic
Blurb: A strong debut from the musical pairing of Unwoman and Caustic, drawing on numerous influences and topped off by haunted and sexual lyrics that may disturb as much as they attract.
Since Unwoman’s Erica Mulkey first performed a guest vocal on Caustic’s “Orchid” in 2011, the two had resolved to collaborate further on a dedicated project of their own; after several years of experimentation, Mulkey and Matt Fanale finally came into a style that would come to be the sound of Beauty Queen Autopsy. Combining Mulkey’s penchant for saccharine and sardonic pop with Fanale’s production savvy, distorted textures, and a lyrical focus on feminine sexual identity, the music on the duo’s debut album Lotharia is as darkly disturbing as it is warmly enticing.
The comparatively light-hearted simplicity of “Good, Giving, Game” with its bouncy groove and distinctly ‘80s flavor almost seems intended to catch the listener off guard, setting an expectation for the rest of the album. A song like “Petit Mort” might stand well alongside this opening track, its heavy dance beat and sparsely distorted electronics bearing some resemblance to the likes of Falco, and “The Taxidermist” is almost whimsical in its juxtaposition of scratchy throbs and Mulkey’s sweet voice. On the other hand, it is in the shattering of those expectations where much of Lotharia’s musical magic lies, particularly in how a track like “Spread” with its almost menacing guitar-esque noisiness and bluesy groove immediately transitions into the bleakly atmospheric trip-hop of “Contaminate Me (Dirty Thoughts),” somewhat akin to the likes of Portishead or 12 Rounds. In a similar vein, “Methadone” struts with a vibrant breakbeat and smoky ambience that brings to mind the likes of Mona Mur, while the title track is eerie in its harmonized repetitions of “I’m the one” amid a pulsating and almost klaxon-like synth sequence, the rhythms gaining in momentum as the lyrics paint a grim picture of internet-fueled obsession. On the softer – if not necessarily lighter – side of things is a song like “Dorothy Parker Had Days Like This,” the chilled and distant pianos playing a lush accompaniment to Mulkey’s despondent and dejected melody in a style more suited to most mournful shoegaze, while “The Devil You Don’t” ends the album with a bleak spoken word narrative reminiscent of Nicole Blackman, the music noteworthy in its rising tension and suspense as austere piano and pads waver ghostlike.
Just as the band’s name suggests, not every story has a happy ending; a caveat every listener should be aware of as the strength of the music beckons to be heard more and more. Drawing on numerous styles to create one’s own unified sound is a monumental task in itself, and what Beauty Queen Autopsy presents on Lotharia is indeed a categorical melting pot; elements of gothic, industrial, new wave, and even jazz are infused throughout the album, topped off by Mulkey’s layers of harmonized vocals delivering Fanale’s sexual lyrics, making for a rather complex and multifaceted listening experience.