Release Date: Jan 26, 2010
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Alternative, Singer-Songwriter
“Welcome to my self-made sweat box. This is where I take it all off. I've got to sweat it out, I'll cook those monsters out -- I'm not coming out of here until my soul appears” is a line that appears in the title track of The Calcination of Scoutt Niblett, and if there is a theme for this album, this is it. The word “calcination” refers to burning metals into calx -- the ashy substance that remains.
For the past decade, Scout Niblett has managed to linger between singer-songwriter Americana and more experimental terrain. On 2001’s Sweet Heart Fever, she moved from the dissonance of “Miss My Lion” to the more intimate and minimal sounds of “Ground Break Service.” For 2003’s I Conjure Series, she accompanied her voice with amateurish drums, not giving a fuck whether the listener wanted to hear her learning the instrument as the tape rolled. “Shining Burning,” found on side B of a 2002 7-inch released by Secretly Canadian, features Niblett sounding like an old field recording and just as haunted as Elizabeth Cotten sitting in a dusty barn somewhere in North Carolina around the turn of the century.
Let us save you the trouble of checking an online dictionary: Calcination is the first stage of alchemy, and it essentially means "purification by fire." It is tied in with astrology, and in those terms, it's basically a humbling process that spurs the introspection and self-evaluation necessary for transformative growth. With that in mind, the title of Scout Niblett's sixth album is rather appropriate. She truly sounds like a woman willing to suffer through anything, to burn away what doesn't work, in order to gain strength and wisdom.
She may be ‘calcinated’ these days – calcination being what happens when you burn metals, apparently – but icy brutalism continues to define the work of [a]Scout Niblett[/a]. Evocative of early [a]PJ Harvey[/a] or a non-hipster Kills, with this captivating fifth album the Portland-residing Nottingham exile delivers a fresh batch of searing confessionals over languidly strummed electric guitar and fitful percussion. A disquieting atmosphere is conjured by both the constant shifts in tempo and Niblett’s emotionally naked lyrics, while [a]Steve Albini[/a]’s naturalistic production deepens the album’s near-menacing intimacy.
Few albums are as aptly titled as Scout Niblett’s latest release, The Calcination of Scout Niblett. It’s not just the reference to calcination, which is a kind of purification by fire, a burning away of the volatile elements of a substance. That much is a no-brainer for the mystic-minded, catharsis-driven Niblett. But while listeners can expect sonic calcination, it’s no less important to realize that this is the calcination of Scout Niblett herself.
For the better part of a decade, English singer-songwriter Scout Niblett has been building a body of work immune to changes in musical trends. Her sound picks up where the distorted guitars, confessional lyrics, and minimalist rock gestures broadly termed “grunge” left off in the mid-'90s, and it doesn't do a whole lot to evolve the formula. The result is stark and challenging music that recalls a stripped-down PJ Harvey.
A retro vibe can’t prevent these songs from crackling with energy. Martin Longley 2010 Straight outta Nottingham (but now residing in Portland, Oregon), singer/guitarist (and sometime drum pummeller) Scout Niblett was born Emma Louise, and this is her sixth album. First off, that's some wondrous title. Secondly, she's not displaying much in the way of stylistic evolution, but it's not exactly certain whether this is a negative factor.