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Electra

Release Date: March 10, 2003
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Album Review

•Anyone who remembers the Wet Taxis will automatically recognise Ikinger's name, and her unique musical style. If not, suffice to say she's a graduate of the Radio Birdman school of rock who played with the likes of Tex Perkins, Charlie Owen and Louis Tillett before offering up this CD - her first solo project. As you'd expect, there's a hard edge, but with sensitive lyrics and her amazing voice. It's extraordinary. - Scott Ellis 7/10 Sun Herald, Sydney November 23, 2003

•Amazingly, Penny Ikinger started writing songs only four years ago. Before that, she played guitar in bands (Wet Taxis, Red Dress) and guested on the records of more famous contemporaries (Louis Tillet, Charlie Owen, Tex Perkins). It's clear why Ikinger has been in such demand -her unique, angular guitar style is riveting, from the distorto-fest of 'Poison Berries' to the delicate lutely pluckings of 'Kathleen' (great film clip for this stand-out song included with cd too). 'Maid of Orleans', a haunting lament for Joan of Arc, achieves a mythic grandeur Patti Smith would proud of and makes my hair stand on end each time I hear it. Electra is an extremely assured debut album, strange, beautiful and deserving of your attention.- Readings Books & Music Monthly November 2003

•...The songwriting is solid, with a personal voice already peeking its head through the guitar textures. The singer/guitarist has a knack for catchy melodies. Their immediate charm, almost pop at times, is counterbalanced by her sleazy guitar playing ...there is something of Franoise Hardy and Marianne Faithfull in Ikinger's voice and delivery. And there's something resolutelypsychedelic in her band arrangements... We reach cruising speed with Electra and Shipwrecked...I don't know why the closing Gladly Slip Away reminds me so much of Concrete Blonde -- a compliment. -Franois Couture All Music Guide November 2003

• Messrs. Ron Sanchez and Deniz Tek over at Career continue their marvelous documentation of the (female) Australian underground scene with this fascinating release from one of rock's most impressive .... female guitarists. It's clear from the blazing fury of opener "Poison Berries" that Penny is ready to take America by storm. ........ The gut wrenching soul dump of "The One I Sent Away" will no doubt draw comparisons with fellow Aussie crooner Nick Cave, although the dirty-assed, alcohol-fueled backing is more Crazy Horse than Bad Seeds. For those who like their wild women and their blues with a ballsy, punky aftertaste, Penny should be at the top of your " to do" list. -Jeff Penczak FakeJazz.com. October 2003

• "a voice of aching pleasure coming through her liquid guitar and wanting to be drawn closer to it" Ross Clelland, Drum Media, 5th Nov 2001

• "deliciously skewed stuff...the surprises are consistently rewarding...Ikinger offers aural treats" Martin Jones, InPress, 5th Dec 2001

• "combining a dangerously seductive voice with a guitar she makes sound so alive it breathes, Ikinger eschews the predictable in favour of an enchanting uncertainty"
Fred E Gostein, City Search, 30 Oct 2001

• "Slow and inevitable, like sunrise on your execution day" John McPharlin, i94 bar, Nov 2001 www.i94bar.com

• "weaving together noise and narrative in the air in front of your eyes...like the best songwriters, her songs are flights of the spirit and the imagination: word pictures; stories in sound...the instruments and vocals coalesce into a single harmonious whole" J. McPharlin, i94 bar, Nov 2001 www.i94bar.com

• "Ikinger is known for her unorthodox technique and distorted - at times abrasive - sound, but (here) she reveals a softer side..." Nick Olle, Wentworth Courier, Nov 7th 2001

• "There is something a little bit dark...something mysterious, something eerie...three haunting, melodic and slightly medieval musical stories" Megan Wood, Revolver, 5th Nov 2001

• "Nico Defrosted" Ashley Crawford, The Age Music Writer


Blimey, Career Records haven't wasted much time getting the runs on the board! While the world's "major" record companies content themselves with endless repackagings of greatest hits collections from a handful of dinosaur stadium bands and housetrained radio favourites, Messrs Sanchez & Tek have proved that you don't have to look too far from home to find something exciting and original.

First it was Dr Tek's Golden Breed power trio effort with the Godoy brothers; then it was the staggeringly good "Great Leap Forward" from Donovan's Brain; now it's the long awaited solo album from Penny Ikinger, with a new album from Angie Pepper to follow soon after.

As I sat down to scribble these words, all I had to start with was a plain CDR; no album cover, track list or cover notes, so I didn't have a clue who played on what. That's how keen the chaps at Career were to get copies out "into the wild" and I was definitely just as keen to finally hear the album, so I wasn't complaining. I've now learned that the video for "Kathleen" will be included on the official CD (out now), but I don't have it on this promo. In the meantime, I've got 52:37 of alternatively raw, sore and sensuous sounds, aided and abetted by the likes of Shamus Goble, Rosie Westbrook and Charlie Owen. At least they were the ones Penny mentioned in the interview she gave back in November 2001 (yes, it has been a while, hasn't it?!), but who knows who else might have contributed since then.

Strangely "Sponge Diver", the track she did with Louis Tillett on the preceding "Songs From The Deep" E.P., is noticeable by its absence, but the other two tracks from that E.P. ("Kathleen" and "Maid Of Orleans") have both made it on to this album, though in the process the short and straightforward double bass intro to "Maid Of Orleans" has turned into a significantly more elaborate piece for what sounds like a whole string quartet. Even without a tracklist, there were some songs I knew the names of through having heard her announce them on the few occasions when I've been lucky enough to catch her performing live. Fortunately Career have since come to the party with a complete tracklist, so that I don't get myself into too much trouble with the others, but even if they hadn't, opening track "Poison Berries" still wouldn't have caused me a moment's pause.

My only real criticism of the "Songs From The Deep" E.P. was that it was a bit too restrained and folksy compared to Ms Ikinger's stage performances. "Poison Berries" was one of the examples I particularly had in mind, so there'll be no such complaint this time. After a brief intro involving a bit of backwards studio trickery (all that's missing is a voice announcing "I buried Kylie") we go straight into some throaty electric guitar, soon shadowed by an ominously husky whisper. Vocally you can hear all the usual suspects that normally get a mention when Penny's performances are talked about, like Nico and Nancy Sinatra, but it's the guitar work that grabs the attention here. In that interview mentioned earlier, Penny made clear her lack of interest in the standard 12-bar blues that was popular with the guitarists she got her first free lessons from, but she seems to have absorbed at least some of the form subconsciously. No, there's no typical 12-bar plod here, but just as Frank Zappa used common forms as the starting points for some very uncommon music, so Penny takes a foundation that sounds like it might once have been something that even John Lee Hooker could have been comfortable with and proceeds to erect on top of it a sonic edifice constructed from such feedback and distortion that you end up suspecting that her guitar might have been restrung with barbed wire instead of the usual "nickel wound" steel strings.

Next song "Kathleen", from "Songs From The Deep", provides both a welcome respite and a bridge to the shimmering title track, which follows it. "Electra" reminds me of the Go-Betweens in one of their spikier moments, but it's also got almost a country feel to it in parts. That's not all it's got though. It's also got at least four guitar tracks by my count and I assume that most if not all of them are Penny's own work. It'll be interesting to see how she handles this one in live performances. Following on from "Electra", "Shipwrecked" comes as something of a slap in the face. This is another one that has been known to take on quite a fiery life of its own in live performance, perhaps even closer in spirit to a 12-bar blues than "Poison Berries" and with far angrier guitar work. Is that "boys drown" she's singing in the chorus? Very disturbing.

"Maid Of Orleans" and "Andalucian Man" seem to share a common theme of betrayal and loss, though one is resigned while the other is distinctly dour and yearning. Vocally "Andalucian Man" has also got touches, in roughly equal proportions, of Astrid Munday (another Blush alumni, along with Rosie Westbrook and Penny herself) and PJ Harvey (in her one of her more mellow, less ferociously angry moods). Frankly if the Andalucian man chose to leave town with her heart before finding out the joy she brings, then he's nothing but a weasel and a wimp and she's better off without him, if you want my opinion (and you've got it now, even if you didn't) "Stuck Inside" is the moodiest number on the album (that's moody as in atmospheric, not moody as in petulant and cranky). It starts with her hot breath on the side of your face then gradually but inevitably turns into an inferno that scorches the parts that other temptresses can't reach. Having survived the "seven nights I cried", clearly that Andalucian man is ancient history to her now, but is she open yet to new opportunities? Close your eyes and listen to this one through a good set of headphones and you might feel her tongue in your ear.

"Waiting for the One I Sent Away" sounds on the surface like a fairly standard torch song - poignant, penitent, but maybe a little scornful too. However as the song circles around before closing in on its climax, Penny unleashes some twisted and slashing guitar that lifts it all above the heads of those around her. Vocally "Spinster" has a touch of the Chrissie Amphletts about it. Not the sexy, seductive Chrissie Amphlett of "I Touch Myself" but the pitiless, taunting Chrissie Amphlett of "Casual Encounter" and countless rancorous exchanges with drunken punters during Divinyls pub gigs in the early eighties, when any sexist heckling was met head on with a tongue lashing that froze the mouth shut while the private parts withered and shrivelled into insignificance. Penny Ikinger's spinster isn't consumed with quite the same furious antipathy, but beneath the bitterness and anguish there's a definite sense of taking charge of a situation that, though not of her own making, is still one from which possibilities might be squeezed.

The closing track is "Gladly Slip Away" and what a siren song it is. "The blue looks so inviting", she enthuses seductively, but might not this be the blue sea of "Shipwrecked"? "Take my hand, we'll jump in... glide away...". Danger, danger Will Robinson! Before sailing past the island of the sirens, Ulysses had himself lashed to the mast while his crew had their ears stuffed with wax, so they couldn't hear the sirens' song (or his own pleas) while he couldn't throw himself overboard in a hopeless attempt to reach the shore without drowning and unless you're planning to grow gills before the song finishes, for your own safety you'd be advised to do one or the other as well. Oops, too late. "You must come with me", she commands and this reviewer dives headlong into the fatal riptide in slavish obedience... It's times like this that I wish I hadn't given up smoking.

After reaching the end of this album, I really feel like I should be sinking back onto the pillow and lighting one up in ecstatic satisfaction. - John McPharlin