Here’s to the bands who do not ask for—and do not expect to receive—any kind of special consideration on the grounds of anything except the merits of the music itself. Despite an increasingly common tendency for bands to feel like they have to tell you where they’re coming from right up front, the ranks of the kind who play their cards close to their chests but immediately whomp you with their chops are growing in some sectors; you can count Painting Daisies among them.
Talk of gender politics in rock has, in the past, occasionally eclipsed the music. Still does, sometimes, and I suppose I’m just as guilty for inserting my own thoughts on the subject here. This is the last I’ll say about it, but I have to say it once: I do not believe in women in rock—only persons in rock.
A lot of people say that. Even with the relatively liberated all-comers climate of the past 25 years, rock music has been and maybe always will be primarily the domain of men—the guitar as a hypertrophied extension of the penis, the cocksure swagger of the hair-tossing lead singer as grotesquerie of sexual doubt and inadequacy. It’s all damn ridiculous when you examine it through a couple of layers of elemental psychology.
No one can deny that women have broken down the door of the clubhouse in recent years—thanks in great part, I would say, to the democratizing, we-can-play-too DIY ethic of good old punk rock. But there’s an interesting paradox at work here: All-girl bands usually attract a disproportionate amount of attention from audiences of both sexes just for being girls, but one of the ugly truths of rock is that a girl band really has to rock bells to put themselves on truly equal footing on a male-dominated playing field, to rise above the backhanded praise of being “pretty good, I guess” (in other words, pretty good for girls) and just be considered good by any measure, without any sort of gender qualifications at all.
If I’m already treading on thin ice here, let me briefly make it even worse for myself by saying that about the worst thing an all-girl rock band can do if they want to go on the books as just being a good band, full-stop, is trivialize themselves with a self-referential name that calls explicit and redundant attention to the fact that, hey lookie, they’re girls with guitars! This is just my personal bias rearing its mottled head, but I can’t stomach the kind of girl-band band names that fall into the following gender-specific categories (by the way, these are all actual band names in parentheses): We Menstruate (Menstrual Tramps, Kotex, PMS), Boys Have a Penis and Girls Have a Vagina (Dickless, Vulva), Chicks Redux (Razor Babes, Lunachicks, who score twice for having a stupid pun in their name; Chicks With Chainsaws, who, like PMS, were a Missoula girl band way back when). The now defunct (I think) Tribe 8, who rocked all kinds of bells and expertly trod the fine line between hilarious showpersonship and most annoying kind of sensationalistic anti-penis populism, must still be called out for adapting their name from the gender-specific word tribate.
Uh oh, is that the sound of scissors sharpening? Look, I’m not in your neighborhood today to pass out crank literature, but I do want you to know that I am very strict in my application of the same standards of performance for women as men in rock. I also like it when a band holds off on staking out its gender turf, at least in name, until the laser pokes the polymer.
Edmonton’s Painting Daisies are all-female and weren’t averse to calling themselves “rockin’ chicks from Canada” in trying to contact the Independent, but the proof, as it must be, is all in the rock, and they hit the ground running—no handicap—on their sophomore CD, Fortissimo. “Carpal Tunnel” starts with the familiar cadence of Devo’s “Whip It” and breaks into a propulsive rocker, heavy on the chugga-chugga power chords, but laced with the keening slide guitar and expressive boogie leads that increasingly become Painting Daisies signatures as the album’s twelve songs go by. “Church of Cosmetology,” like many a great third songs on an album A side, lands the second punch squarely, as much for the perverted liturgical theme as the already familiar ratted-out slides.
The vocals, to which members Kim Gryba, Daisy Blue Groff, Carolyn Fortowsky and Rachelle Van Zanten all contribute, are not rock in the slightest and do not pretend to be. They sound instead like the vocals of an acoustic folk group grafted onto an accomplished and not easily categorized base of electrified (but just as easily, erm, acousticable), complementary songwriting styles. An ear for rock, let’s say, but the restraint of folk. And the swell harmonies! If I had to compare them to anybody...well, I really couldn’t. Painting Daisies are definitely doing their own thing. And yes, they rock.