Album Review: People Eating People – People Eating People

While People Eating People’s eponymic debut may not be, free and clear, brand new – it was released quietly late last year – July sees the national release of the album (through Control Group). Let’s call it the debutant ball of People Eating People, one in which a bucket of blood gets poured on Nouela Johnston’s head and all hell breaks loose. Keep clear of the crazy lady singing/ yelling “I hate all my friends, every single one.” Sleep with one eye open, you poor soul. It doesn’t bode well that the chosen sobriquet is People Eating People; it does, however, bode well that Nouela Johnston beats from the keys of her piano prog-gypsy-hooks spliced with pop. (Come to think of it, Gypsy was pop at some point in history.) You may find yourself in proximity to a stage atop which she sits, raging. You’ve been warned. Watch for flying objects. Metal hasn’t cornered the market on angst.

Johnston grew up in South Korea (as the daughter of a Julliard pianist, no less) on a diet of The Beatles and jazz. More recently, after her Stateside disembarkation in 1997, she did time in Say Hi (formerly Say Hi to Your Mom) and Mon Frere. People Eating People grew out of the necessity for a personal creative outlet.

Johnston’s voice draws fleeting inspiration from Gwen Stefani (think: Tragic Kingdom), Regina Spektor, Björk, Nina Simone, and Fiona Apple – a diverse vocal heterogeny. Some may call it chameleonic as a compliment, but it really amounts to vocal Multiple Personality Disorder. This isn’t so much an album as a cut and paste art project. Johnston slides from jazz influenced, club-ready silken delivery to outrage in the blink of an eye. You want that Tom Waits carny vibe (monkey grinder optional)? She’s got it. You want radio ready singles? There’s two: “For Now” and “Rain, Rain”. Very little of what People Eating People offers up is subpar, but it listens like a Various Artists compilation.

“Rain, Rain” opens with the tinkle of keyboard entering into irresistible hook.

Rain, Rain, wash away this gravel; it’s cluttering my thoughts.
Rain, rain, wash away these piles; they’re piling on top of all that I’ve grown up dreaming and scheming of.
Rain, rain, wash away everything.

“For Now”, on the other hand, borders on overly mawkish pandering. Compare that to the Stefani-like yells on the confessional yet apoplectically furious “I Hate All My Friends”; factor in that “For Now” follows “I Hate All My Friends”, and it’s not hard to see why volatile may be the best way to describe People Eating People thematically. While “I Hate All My Friends” capitalizes on vocal fortitude, other such tracks fare worse. “Building Armor” provides acrid pitch problems. On “For Now” Johnston tries to slide around atop the lyrics “One day, I’ll make you love me” and ends up sounding like a first round reject from American Idol trying to run scales.

People Eating People is at its most melodious when tempos slow (on such tracks as “Let’s Rage” and “Straight Lines”). Where Johnston’s voice breaches the speakers raw and ungoverned on toe tappers like “Building Armor”, “Straight Lines” displays vocal proficiency. What’s startling is that lyrically, “Straight Lines” and “Let’s Rage” are arguably the bleakest tracks on the album. If “Reason to Believe” was the prayer at the end of Springsteen’s gloomy Nebraska, “Let’s Rage” is the nihilistic, heavenward fist shake (sweetly sung, of course) to close People Eating People. The opening line: “I’m nobody special, you’re nobody special; let’s rage.” The closing line: “What is life, then wasting time anyway?” In her piano playing (and worldview), she draws on the iconoclasm of Tori Amos. While it isn’t fair to compare Johnston’s apples to Amos’ oranges in terms of lyrical structure, both are unflinching, unflappable, and uncompromising in their lyrical content.

People Eating People is scattershot and unrepentant for it, a Sunday buffet in album form. As you travel through the buffet queue, you’ll notice some dishes were overcooked or hurried. The quality is variable, but there’s a whole lot of tastiness to gorge yourself on, too.

Check Out:

“I Hate All My Friends”


“All The Hospitals”


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