Miranda July Exorcises Inner Demons On New Disc

Verbal vitriol and chilling soundscapes mark performance artist's second album.

It's apparent that Miranda July has a lot on her mind -- maybe too much.

So, every now and then, she has to release the overload the only way she knows how: in spoken word.

"A lot of things are just lodged in me," filmmaker/performance artist July said. "They just come out."

On July's second full-length album, The Binet-Simon Test, which came out two months ago on the Kill Rock Stars label, the 24-year-old Portland, Ore., resident nearly sets stereo speakers aflame with her "exorcisms" -- spoken-word vignettes venting steam about such topics as medical and psychological testing.

"I just sit in my room and they just pour out of me, sometimes all at once," July said, "and I have to rush to write it down in my notebook. It's like, 'Whoa, where did that come from?' There are some pieces that are less about crafting and more about exorcism."

In her preference for verbal "exorcism" methods, July works in a hallowed -- if not widely embraced -- tradition upheld by such other human spigots of acidic verbal spew as Lydia Lunch and the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra.

But The Binet-Simon Test is not simply spoken word. Like her first full-length for Kill Rock Stars, 10 Million Hours a Mile, it contains chilling electronic soundscapes, provided by Donovan Skirvin, that reflect the disturbing atmosphere created by July's performances.

July's need to tackle her inner demons via performance surfaced at an early age, she said, although not quite in the form she favors now. July used to write plays and make movies to deal with the feelings welling inside her. Later, she was in a couple of bands -- the Need and the CeBe Barnes Band -- but split with them after realizing that the extended pieces she liked to perform between the groups' live sets were what she was most passionate about.

No doubt adding force to that passion is what July calls a chronic, unclassifiable illness that she claims she's battled her whole life. This could explain why July unleashes much of her pent-up anger and frustration on the medical profession -- an anger that flows torrentially in pieces such as "I Can-Japan" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Medical Wonder."

On "I Can-Japan," July takes on the role of a character that sounds like a demented-femme Mr. Rogers, the popular '70s television personality devoted to preschool education. The character has a mute child hooked up to electrodes and a buzzer that zaps him in an effort to "teach" him an educational lesson.

"Can you say that? You're drooling now," July says on the track. "Hey, that rhymes! Drool ... motherf---ing fool! That's right! ... That is a very ugly face you're making. I'll make an ugly face. Did I scare you? ... I'd like to suck you into my bones!"

The new album's title is taken from the Binet-Simon test, a psychological test used in the early 20th century, July said. It was developed by psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon, and it eventually evolved into the IQ test. It specifically assessed skills involved in schoolwork, and it distinguished mentally retarded children from so-called "normals." The test included the concept of "mental age," so that children could be easily ranked and compared to each other.

"It just constructs what a popular child should be like," July added. "And it's kind-of like what the world is actually like."

It is this concept of distinguishing normal children from the others that most irritates July and causes her to speak out on the new record. The ultra-disturbing "Medical Wonder" (RealAudio excerpt) comes with jarring buzzers, crystal-shattering vocal exercises and other uncomfortable sounds that punctuate her performed critiques of the medical profession.

On other songs, such as "Lena Beamish" (RealAudio excerpt) and "The Co-Star," July's slightly

submerged and definitely twisted sense of humor manifests itself with her

unusual verbal delivery and wacky subject material. Reoccurring lines

such as "blink if you understand this" are interjected throughout the loopy

monologue that is "The Co-Star."

July began performing, she says, when she was a small child. Whether it was weird and wild living-room or bedroom performances, or writing plays when she was in junior high school, July has always found the need to express herself.

Not surprisingly for such a creative and talented artist, records such as 10 Million Hours a Mile and The Binet-Simon Test aren't July's only venues for self-expression. Outside her spoken-word world, July is also the founder of Big Miss Moviola, the largest distributor of underground movies by female filmmakers.

The idea behind Big Miss Moviola, July said, is to create distribution that would not exist in any other circumstance and to allow women throughout the country and around the world to see what other women are doing.