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Need To Know: Kristeen Young

Photo: Jason Rodgers

When interviewing and reviewing musicians is your job, you can grow woefully hard to impress. With so many promo CDs and press show invites making their way across your desk, it takes a lot to truly be blown away by a band. I don't consider myself a music snob (if anything most of my colleagues think my appetite for low-calorie pop is a problem) but these days I usually need more than a good bass line or a perky pair of tits slathered in glitter to really get me going.

So when my friend (and Popnog partner in crime) Jessanne Collins suggested I give Kristeen Young (who performs with drummer "Baby" Jef White as KRISTEENYOUNG) a go, I was a bit skeptical. Jessanne knows about my thing for women who play the piano and when you've grown up listening to Kate Bush and Fiona Apple and (vintage) Tori Amos, the newbies usually sound at best derivative and at worst just plain ... bad (I'm looking at you Vanessa Carlton).

Kristeen Young is neither of those things. While my first reaction to hearing her new album Music for Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd-Onlooker was "WTF? Did Kate Bush record an album between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love that's been buried until now?" (Though Young says she didn't begin listening to Bush until after she began making her own music, some of Bush's early experimental whelping and thrashing piano do seem to manifest themselves on Music for Strippers...), I quickly realized that Young has created her own weird, wonderful brand of piano pop.

Young doesn't so much play the piano as assault it. In fact, she has a dress made out of piano keys fashioned from keyboards that have fallen victim to her Jujitsu-like approach to playing (see above). "I really wanted to expand the vocabulary of the piano, to show it could be a modern rock 'n' roll instrument," she told Jessanne recently for a profile in Out's February issue. Combined with White's drumming, Young says of Music for Strippers... "I wanted to make it a machine, really layered -- a wall of pianos, but like that moving, decapitating wall in Caligula." Songs like "Son of Man" and "That's What It Takes, Dear" -- a duet with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump -- stutter and stomp, gnash and wail but Young never loses her hold on melody and she offers no shortage of beautiful moments even when spitting lines like "I, once, swallowed you / Then, you swallowed me / Now it's all shit, son." All in all the album -- daring, biting, and utterly unlike anything anyone else is putting out right now -- is one of my favorites of 2009 and deserves every bit of the praise and attention it will hopefully continue to get.

To hear samples of Young's music, to learn more about her, and to pick up a copy of Music for Strippers (or any of her previous releases) head to her MySpace page and/or her official site. And if you're in New York City this Wednesday, January 13, make your way to The Bell House in Brooklyn, where she'll be performing with White at 11 pm.


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