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RASPUTINA
Great American Gingerbread
Filthy Bonnet
Format: CD+DVD / Digital
Release Date: April 5, 2011
By Nick Dean August 1, 2011

Great American Gingerbread is a compilation of Rasputina’s “rarities and neglected items.” Listeners familiar with the music of Melora Creager will recognize aspects of the album’s 14 songs upon first listen. Present in the varied tracks are the signature sounds of Creager’s band: driving cellos, sometimes clean and sometimes distorted; raucous drum programming; spoken word vocals; sugary sweet, almost classical-sounding melodies and raging rock’n’roll outbursts. Creager has been making music as Rasputina since the early 1990s. In that time, she and her various bandmates have produced six studio albums, three live albums, and a number of other interesting releases. For instance, there was their first EP with a Marilyn Manson remix back in 1997, a covers EP in 2003 and, more recently, several small-scale, hand-crafted releases sold exclusively by Melora herself.

Like those previous EPs, this compilation’s more a curio than straightforward studio album. The songs on Great American Gingerbread are largely unused demos, described by Creager as “initial compositions and impulses.” Some of the demos are more wholly formed than others. “Children’s Reform Centre” is a 5-minute-long instrumental piece which, musically, sounds more fully finished than some of the other tracks. “Skylark,” conversely, is barely over a minute long and feels more like an “impulse” than “composition.”

“Producers used to advise against ‘chasing the demo,’” Melora writes in the album’s liner notes for “Children’s Reform Centre.” “It’s moot today, but I always thought ‘Why not? Why not chase the demo?’” The tracks collected on Great American Gingerbread are culled from throughout Creager’s career, but aren’t ordered chronologically. Accompanying most all the songs are short notes from Melora in the CD’s sleeve, scant sentences which shed some light on the artist, her process, and her history as Rasputina. “This is pretty embryonic,” she writes of “Skylark,” which, like “Children’s Reform Centre,” is a demo from 2004. “It shows something about my song-writing process, the singing of non-words to get started.”

Other tracks are also collected here, not just demos. There are instrumental pieces which were recorded as scores to film and animation, as well as songs Creager contributed to other compilations. The song “Coraline” first saw life on a tribute album to the works of fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. Similarly, “Skeleton Bang” was a children’s song for a charity record, Colours Are Brighter, released by Rough Trade in 2006. Their inclusion here, however, gives them a new life of sorts. Sure, diehards have likely already chased down physical copies of those releases or simply downloaded just the Rasputina tracks, but for the rest of us, they’re collected here with a dozen other oddities Melora’s put to tape.

Though it bears the Rasputina name, Great American Gingerbread feels closer to the EP Perplexions (Filthy Bonnet), which Creager released in 2006 under her own name — not the band’s. As her liner notes explain, much of what’s here was done solo or in the studio with producers. Even on Perplexions, though, all of the songs were fully finished to be taken or left depending on how one felt about them. Here though, we get only moments of what we love about Melora’s music — fragments of songs in some cases. Still, as a stopgap between the band’s last full-length, Sister Kinderhook (Filthy Bonnet, 2010), and whatever’s next to come down the pike, it’s a welcome release and a “must have” for band completists.

Packaged with the album is a DVD of the band recorded live at the Knitting Factory in New York City (recorded in 2002, in the band’s typical throwback style it is billed as having been recorded in “1902”). On the DVD fans get a more varied setlist, with several of the 11 tracks being fan favorites such as “Transylvanian Concubine,” “Signs of the Zodiac,” and “Rats.” There is also an interview with Creager included on the disc. As far as artists go, Creager’s not stingy. Nor does she spend a lot of time between releases, unless circumstances dictate it. Lineup changes have likely throughout the years put off tours and delayed records, but there’s a definite sense that Melora’s dedicated to the band and the continual release of her music — as is evident by the many EPs, live albums, and other Rasputina miscellanea such as this record.

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