Penny Ikinger is precious! A very rare kind of guitarist/singer, she combines a velvet voice with a daring/adventurous playing style. Just like "Electra" that has been reviewed in length in these very pages, "Penelope" offers a clever addition of sweet'n'sour melodies, very skillfully written songs and the sonic landscapes that fits them, where she pulls the best of her guitar, sometimes "mistreating" it, just like the arrangements on this record sometimes "mistreat" a strict pop format of writing. A dense, rich and atmospheric record where, listening to "When we get to the Land" for instance, the former Wet Taxis can sound like a female alternative to the New Christs. Still, from the brilliant and luminous "Fragile" to the perfect "Sycamore Tree", bathing in a surreal light, Miss Penny has more than one trick in her bag, and masters different styles with her six-string. She is now signed to Citadel records, Australia's independant rock essential/umber one label. Obviously - because she deserves the best ! Ron Peno, Deniz Tek or Charlie Owen didn't side with her on that record for nothing. Call her Penelope ; Penny is for friends !
The plotline's easy enough to follow: Our Australian Lady of Feedback takes a sharp turn off the Road to Damscus and finds pop. That, however, would be a lazy over-simplification that tells only part of the story.
Statement of Fact One: There are enough facets to this hefty diamond to bedazzle members of the hardline yeah-hup brigade or those of poppier disposition who chose to graze in the sonic left-field.
Statement of Fact Two: The multinational crew Penny has on-board is as eclectic in the naming as the playing: Deniz Tek wields guitar on five of the 12 tracks, French musicians Dim Dero and Vinz Guilluy anchor two. Dave Graney and Clare Moore add substantial contributions (and hosted some of the recording sessions.) Penny's Melbourne band of guitarist Andrew McCubbin, drummer Shamus Goble and bassist Craig Harnath are as close to an album backbone as you'll find. Ron Peno (Died Pretty), Mark Ferrie (Sacred Cowboys), Charlie Owen (Beasts of Bourbon, New Christs et al) and Ron Sanchez (Donovan's Brain) weigh in as well. Beast and ex-Surrealist Brian Henry Hooper co-wrote one of the best and slinkiest tracks ("Into The Slipstream".)
It's a varied roster but it hangs together so well.
Summation So Far: It took an eternity to come out but "Penelope" was every bit worth the wait. Its principal doesn't like being rushed but there's not a single note or word that sounds forced. "Penelope" is well considered, yet combustive and compellingly organic.
And about that sound…it's drenched in fuzz and distortion but production team Penny and Craig Harnath let the pop shimmer and glint through the cracks, applied a shellac veneer in places and a mild wash in others. Dip a toe in this water and you'll be sucked into a deep, black sonic pool.
Statement For Those Still Unsure: Penny too suffers occasional bouts of self doubt but you'd never divine that from these songs. Each is a gem in its own right and delivered with confident self-assurance.
There's a swirling and askew duet with Ron Peno ("Memories Remain") that seems to repel or compell. I'm with the latter. "Fragile" is anything but. Once the frost-coasted outer shell of string synths and organ falls off, you'll need to strap yourself in. "When We Get To The Land" is double-tracked vocals wedded to slide guitar and a kicking bottom end.
The Big Pop Moment is "Impossible Love", a song so simple yet propulsive that it should be bursting out of radio speakers around the globe. The swaggering "Montana To Mexico" is a companion piece to the brittle 'n' clean "Pieces Of Glass" and there's no mistaking those licks and leads from the Iceman. By the time the ominous psych of closer "City Of Sin" fades from hearing, you'll be wondering why you didn't seize upon this album the minute it came out (or before if you were luck) and you'll consign it to permanent hi-rotation.Alain Feydri's Abus Dangereux (France)
Summation: "Penelope" is pop as today's kids don't know it, a brilliant and bold record that pushes out into psych-rock. It's as great an album as you'll hear in these troubled and testing times. Don't die wondering. - The Barman