Loud is as loud does. Amber Valentine knows this. Her band –Athens, Ga.’s Jucifer — consists only of herself and boyfriend Ed Livengood but they take 14 amplifiers on tour.
Live, Amber handles the vocals and guitar and Ed drums. It may just be guitar and drums but Amber cautions, “It’s very loud; very high volume.” On their latest record, I Name You Destroyer (Velocette), each plays the other’s instruments as well as bass, piano, and other instruments. As you might suspect of a band that tours with as many amps as they do, the sound is full. And though it’s often busy, the music is focused. There is an abrasive yet disarming dynamic in Amber’s voice. Above the sludge and roar, Amber’s melodies swim into your brain. And when she screams – oh Lord, like in “Torch” where it comes out of the blue – it’s like someone has pulled all the bad stuff from inside you and turned it into noise. It’s that intense. Jucifer are never even remotely pop, but you’ll find with repeated listenings that the noisy bits make the pretty parts that much more satisfying.
Take the song “Memphis” which seems representative of Jucifer’s extremes. A dark vocal and piano begin the song, but soon upbeat drums join in and a groovy bass line erupts. Still, the eerie vocal persists. Then there’s “Fight Song” whose kick ass drums and straightforward guitar riff make you nod your head instinctively. Amber’s screams in that song will send chills down your spine.
But in most places, like in “When She Goes Out,” there’s not a trace of the frightening scream. The harmonies are so sweet that it is hard to believe it’s the same band. Amber’s voice is detached, like Nina Perrson of the Cardigans, but still warm. Still, Jucifer evades easy description. “It’s really natural for us because we listen to everything from big band music to country to hip hop to jazz and classic rock,” Amber explains. “In every genre there is some artist that we like. And I think that just naturally means that the music is going to be a little bit harder to classify because we think about music from every possible angle.”
Jucifer’s music is complex and multi-layered, but because of the care they put into it, it is also unconventionally beautiful. For Amber, this is simply a by-product of working as naturally and freely as they do. “If music was an effort, I don’t think I’d be doing it,” she says. “Because I don’t really like to work. And I don’t like to be confined in any way.”
2003 will be a busy year once again for Jucifer. They have in mind both a double album and an EP and hope to record one or the other this year. Til then, they will be on tour constantly supporting last year’s Destroyer. Go see them but be warned: It’s loud. Amber’s parting thought: “Please tell everyone to wear earplugs.”