Unwoman (cf. The Handmaid's Tale) is the alias for US-based singer, cellist and academically trained composer Erica Mulkey, who wrote and performed the album in its entirety. It's very much a one-woman piece of electronic polemic, taking influences (and songs) from Kate Bush to Crass, and considered as such is impressively eclectic. The accompanying press release says that Unwoman wants to endow electronic music with "more political and personal relevance", and (as you might expect from the name) this means a certain degree of explicit feminist-influenced rhetoric. Or, writ smaller: she says "cunt", in an extremely confrontational way, as many strong-minded female songwriters seem obliged to do. Opening track "In Gilead", wherein appears said lyric, is an attempt to get into the mind of the subjugated women in Margaret Atwood’s fictional world, but it might as well be set here and now; and it’s the least lyrically subtle track despite being the most literary. One can’t help wondering what PC scandal would surface if male singers talked about their nether parts in such an assertive way. But this is just a personal bugbear – I’ve never liked the self-conscious 'reclamation' of such things, particularly when the assertiveness was implicit in the music anyway. It’s overstating the case just a little.
Having said that, later song "When I Touch Myself" is a delicious melt of half-heard lines and synthesisers. And the ominously named "Freedom From Religion!" (again, I never trust titles with exclamation marks, even from proven musical talents; it usually means trying too hard) is actually a rather rousing horde of frightening bleeps as well as scoring a point and successfully using the word "prostheletising" in a sung lyric (as you do). Moral of this story: expect the unexpected where Unwoman is concerned. She samples Labyrinth. She covers The Cure... And, for all that her lyrics sometimes stray onto the side of the unsubtle – and use the word "copulating", which is possibly the least attractive descriptor for the sexual act ever, although perhaps that’s deliberate – she's a genuine multi-talent, and that deserves encouragement in these days of diffused modular art.
The real strengths of this record are in the more obviously songlike tracks: "Knowledge Scars", "Dispossessed" ("you were the axe for the frozen sea within me..."), and perhaps – depending on your views regarding what constitutes musical sacrilege - the breathless, oscillating cover of "Deeper Understanding". Elsewhere are intriguing but opaque voyages into the world of partially submerged, um, noisescapes, punctuated by Erica Mulkey's fretful, fractured vocals. Which isn't a bad thing, but it isn't going to sell Unwoman to you at first listen either. Hence, start at the title track and work in from there. But do make the effort; there’s something here for many.
8Kate Dornan's Score