Chicago artist and musician Gregory Jacobsen is probably best known for his paintings: for his subjects he seems to prefer bodies (and body parts) distended by bizarre, often horrifying deformities, but he renders them in bright candylike colors, with lush and lovingly detailed brushwork.
Jacobsen also leads a long-running band, Lovely Little Girls, whose current incarnation—a theatrical nine-piece prog-rock collective—traffics in similarly absurd and jarring contrasts. The group's knotty, intricate songs heave and dance and skitter, sometimes gracefully dexterous and sometimes grotesquely lumpy—they're clearly the work of formidably talented musicians with vivid imaginations. Jacobsen's demented lead vocals flicker from frighteningly histrionic to carefully declamatory, with eruptions of abject mania or borderline obscenity, but behind him a chorus of singers might deliver a pristine, almost angelic chant of "the pain, the horror."
Tomorrow Lovely Little Girls release their fourth album, Glistening Vivid Splash—it's their second for Skin Graft Records, founded in Chicago 25 years ago but now based in the Saint Louis area. The Reader is pleased to present an exclusive premiere of the record in its entirety.
I go way back with Lovely Little Girls: I saw their second show, at the long-defunct 6Odum space in November 2001, though I didn't know then how new the project was. At the time Jacobsen used whomever he could corral for a series of one-off events: Lovely Little Girls performances were less the work of a band with a fixed repertoire and "more performance pieces with music," he says. The lineup back then included synth players Andy Slater (now better known as Velcro Lewis) and Andy Ortmann as well as two dancers honking bike horns and stabbing balloons. "It was vaguely scripted out," Jacobsen remembers, "with me performing monologues over sounds (popping balloons, clarinet farts, synth burbles)."
As it turns out, the Reader goes even further back with Lovely Little Girls: Liz Armstrong described their first show, which had happened three months earlier, in a preview of the concert I saw. "[Jacobsen's] face was smeared with off-white paint, his hair contained in crooked pigtails, and he wore an all-spandex outfit consisting of turquoise leggings and a too-small sequined tunic," she wrote. " The drummer—in a lobotomy-victim mask and a cardboard crown—blasted a childishly simple beat, and a guy in a wizard costume with a cardboard phallus for a nose moaned and played an equally sparse melody on synthesizer. Every so often another revolting character—a girl in a white satin dress who squirted fake blood from a device hidden between her legs, three monkeylike accordion players—would come onstage and dance spastically as well."
Lovely Little Girls live
Jacobsen soon grew tired of recruiting new collaborators for every spectacle, though. "In the end that approach wasn't very constructive," he says. "There was never enough time to perfect anything." Lovely Little Girls became a proper band in 2002, and in 2005, with the arrival of bassist Alex Perkolup (Murmur, Cheer-Accident, Flying Luttenbachers), it began to evolve into the aggressively odd but intimidatingly sophisticated creature it is today. "He supplies the musical complexity, and I give it the raw punk/performance edge," says Jacobsen. "The band is very collaborative at this point, with everyone contributing in equal measure, but Alex and I are still the main aesthetic forces behind the band."
The theatrics and costumes remained, but the music evolved rapidly, moving from bent, raw punk rock into something more experimental, tangled, and weird—and in 2011, when Lovely Little Girls re-formed after a three-year hiatus, they become a full-on prog band, heavily influenced by the likes of Art Bears and Magma. This version of the group has one album out already, 2012's Cleaning the Filth From a Delicate Frame.
When the new lineup debuted onstage in December 2011, the Reader's Monica Kendrick talked to Jacobsen about it. "Alex and I are trying to do 'show tunes' in a tolerable and avant-garde way—stripping out all the annoying and execrable Glee-ness of it all and focusing on the abstract storytelling through song structure, ridiculous melodies, and multiple voices/narrators," he told her. "Jesus Christ Superstar via Beefheart/Frith/Magma. The texts deal with food, sex, humiliation—our usual themes."
Lovely Little Girls remain a passion project for everyone involved, writing slowly and performing relatively rarely. But that's not to say Jacobsen doesn't devote an obsessive amount of energy to the band. The masks and sculptures in the new video for "Corpse Thighs Dancing" (directed by Jacobsen and Chris Hefner) are all his work, and all told the clip took nearly a year to finish.
In Jacobsen's vocals on this track, you can hear a little of Jello Biafra's rapid, springy quaver, but you can also tell he's inspired by Tomata du Plenty of late-70s LA electro-punks the Screamers. And the rhythmic chorus vocals of Sacha Mullin and L. Wyatt are straight from the Magma playbook—exalted and almost alien. The whole album is streaming at the bottom of this post.
"It's very important for me to try and tap into emotion—from making someone uncomfortable, to making them feel a sense of beauty that is both lush and frightening, to have it all crash down into absurdity," says Jacobsen. "We never want to alienate listeners; we want to bring them into our odd musical vocabulary. Often prog can be cold and dead and a little cliche."
Lovely Little Girls leave town for a short tour in a couple weeks, but they return on Monday, August 1, for a record-release show at the Empty Bottle with openers Bobby Conn, Walking Bicycles, and Chorus of Shadows.