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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 06:35 pm

Hollow boulders

By all rights, Two Ton Boa ought to be heavy

Two Ton BoaParasiticide(Kill Rock Stars)

One of the many excruciating aspects of Rock Star: Supernova was watching the female contestants as they wailed and writhed and whipped their hair around in a doomed attempt to prove that hott chixx can be heavy. Be they saucy sexbots in rubber fetish gear, hardened harridans in leather vests, or Courtney clones in tattered party frocks, they had one thing in common: No matter how hard they pumped their little fists or scrunched their little foreheads, no matter how many times Dave Navarro validated their total awesomeness, no matter how gamely they played their parts in this Title IX-for-heshers charade, they were never meant to win. Tommy Lee might hire Dilana to cater his next dinner party, but play drums in a band with her? Uh-huh, that’ll happen — right about the time that Ann Coulter makes sweet, sweet love to Noam Chomsky on Al Jazeera.

By all rights, Two Ton Boa ought to be heavy. There’s the name, for starters, and the fact that the band boasts two, count ’em two, bass guitars, and the many references in the lyrics to suicide and cyanide and parasites (the hearts and flowers of the heavy-music crowd). Singer/lead bassist Sherry Fraser, who writes all the songs, has said in interviews that she suffers from bipolar disorder, which, as luck would have it, is a definite asset for heavy-music frontpersons, mental illness, or a convincing simulacrum thereof, being the coin of the realm. But even though Fraser seems credibly crazy and all the essential signifiers (anguish, alienation, absence of irony) are in place, her band just isn’t that heavy, not unless your idea of heavy is the Dresden Dolls backed by Tool. Two Ton Boa is like one of those fiberglass boulders sold at gardening supply stores; it looks massive, looming over the pansies and the concrete gnomes, but it’s hollow inside, and any old lady could easily fling it into a flatbed.

The frustrating part is that Parasiticide, Two Ton Boa’s first full-length after a six-year hiatus, doesn’t totally suck. If it weren’t trying so hard to be heavy, conforming so exactly to every nü-metal precept (except the one that bans chick singers, of course), it would be a good deal less of a drag. Fraser, a classically trained musician, plays her instrument with inventiveness and skill; whereas most bass players are content to plunk out the root notes, she crafts sinuous melodies and seething counterpoint. As a singer, she’s more than adequate, with a theatrical alto that slithers from come-on to put-down in the space of a line. She’s often compared to Polly Jean Harvey, which makes sense if you’re considering vocal, rather than emotional, range. Like Harvey, she’s got that throaty croon, that sexy/dangerous Medusa thing happening; unlike Harvey, she never mucks it up by showing her softer side in a yucky love song.

Every track on Parasiticide is relentlessly horrifying. “Cash Machine,” which actually sort of swings, in a queasy, lurching, grinding kind of way, is about the evils of capitalism; “Herarchy” turns a schoolyard taunt into a jeremiad about “cruel, cruel, cruel, viscious [sic] girls”; “Favorite Bloody Patient” is about the perils of plastic surgery and the commodification of female sexuality; “Bad Seed” riffs on the classic vagina dentata theme. The more interesting songs, such as the Judy Holliday-meets-Siouxsie Sioux-ish “Gumshoe,” leaven the ugliness with a dash of something else, something that verges on a sense of humor; there’s a teasing, whimsical cabaret quality that seeps through occasionally, particularly on the songs with piano. Maybe, to be truly heavy, Two Ton Boa just needs to lighten up a little.

Contact René Spencer Saller at rssaller@core.com.

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