Need To Know

People talk about a whole not equaling the sum of its parts, as if that were a bad thing. If The Need Is Dead were the sum of its parts — song suites, shifting time signatures, references to Swamp Thing — we might well be sitting here discussing some new Rush monstrosity. But no: In the Need's strange little world, things really do add up differently. Here, 2 + 2 = the color red. Suffice it to say that, despite all the progressive-rock ingredients that go into the Need's batter, what we get coming out is an engaging set of electronic punk muffins as only the duo composed of Rachel Carns (organ, drums, vocals) and Radio Sloan (guitar, bass, vocals) can shake 'n' bake 'em.

The Need hail from the same Pacific Northwest scene that spawned Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, but their music is an especially unusual outgrowth of the riot grrrl community. They hold show tunes in higher esteem than the Sex Pistols. Carns' spy movie keyboards assume the dominant position, standing out more like Buddy Holly horn-rimmed specs than a surf band's wraparound shades. Layered voices quiver and slide like self-propelled pennywhistles. And, all the while, Sloan lies in wait, ready to bludgeon bystanders with handy little Black Sabbath riffs, as on "O Sally How's It Feel With a Fake Hand"

(RealAudio excerpt)?

Throughout The Need Is Dead, everything is just off-kilter enough to feel like a code that's not yet been cracked. "Red-clot-make-a-Valentine-for- a-blue-dot-on-a-gallow-tree-so-shake-out-them-pigeon- toes-and-make-a-bad-doggy-come!" the band whispers on "Vaselina"

(RealAudio excerpt). The 10 songs on the album apparently tell a story about some characters named Sally and Vaselina. It's possible Sally is dead, though it's kinda hard to tell. Is Vaselina the queen? No, someone named Lucy's the queen. And don't even ask about the true identity of the "2-Story Girl" (RealAudio excerpt).

Particular words and key phrases seem to anchor the tale — Halloween, king and queen, tile — but they're more like puzzle pieces that don't quite fit the right shapes on the board. You can force them together, but they won't form one definable picture, so why bother? Just sit back, dig Carns' Soviet-style, utilitarian album art and be comforted in knowing that this year, you'll likely hear nothing else quite like this. The Need are indeed alive. "Go Dark Sally!"