Kill Sybil

  • Kill Sybil
  • Fairlane EP7 (eMpTy) 1992 
  • Kill Sybil (eMpTy) 1993 
  • Juned
  • Juned (Up) 1994 
  • Every Night for You (Up) 1996 

As a historical note, Seattle quintet Kill Sybil — initially just Sybil, the name under which the group issued a 1991 single — once had future Hole batterer Patty Schemel sitting on its drum throne. (Her brother Larry Schemel was one of the band’s two guitarists.) Her drumming on two tracks, however, is not the best feature of the band’s lone album. Kill Sybil boasts impressive three-dimensional sound and tempers the rage of punk hormones with bright pop tunes that could have been snatched from tweepoppers like Tiger Trap. Frequently resembling Hole’s Live Through This (which it predates) in presence if not temper, Kill Sybil is better than good in every department other than Tammy Watson’s unsteady lead vocals. And even that problem is successfully addressed with overdubbing. Additionally, Stevescott Schmaljohn of Treepeople joins his moonlighting bandmate, drummer Eric Akre, to sing “Broken Back,” and guitarist Dale Balenseifen takes the mic for “Something to Tell.” Except for a brief blurt of in-concert incoherence, the songs have shape, substance and dynamic variety (“Best” even waxes gently atmospheric before unleashing its power); the guitarists’ furious strumming layers unconventional chords into intriguing textures and then punctures them with noisy solos. Best of all, there’s more diverse melodicism than should be expected from such an energetically clamorous band. Even when the music is jumping around wildly, Kill Sybil keeps its feet on solid ground.

Balenseifen subsequently formed Juned (the name is allegedly skatepunk slang for getting fucked over and learning something from it, a process that undoubtedly fed into songs here like “Leeches,” “Sick Smile,” “Shallow” and “Deserve It”). Though unafraid of rocking out when need be, the all-female quartet — which, in an odd small-world coincidence, includes bassist Leslie Hardy, who was briefly in Hole directly before Kristen Pfaff — is more purely pop-minded and even-keeled than Kill Sybil, and the better for it. In its darker hues, the record summons up a powerful early-’80s UK new wave vibe, like Echo and the Bunnymen or early Cure. But the jazz/folk allure in Balenseifen’s voice (with occasional harmonies by ex-My Diva guitarist Claudia Groom and drummer Lenny Rennalls) nicely counterweights the thoughtfully determined electric strumming, a bristly, pretty rush of mildly unconventional chord patterns and abruptly changing rhythms. Dinosaur Jr bassist Mike Johnson co-produced and plays guitar on two songs.

Every Night for You is a startling improvement, a finely played and sung album of alluring textures that would be hard to peg for its indie (not to mention punk) roots strictly on its sound. Coming on like the Cranberries with the Edge as lead guitarist, Juned and Johnson don’t so much explore the parameters of their soft new surroundings as luxuriate in it. Though the dreamy singing and rich (but firmly propulsive — these women are no shoegazers) guitar arrangements are irresistible, the songs are frustratingly two-dimensional, revealing little beyond their fine surfaces. The breezy “Hearts to Bleed,” “Kyuss” and “Possum” are notably superior, but things like “Titanic,” “Evynd’s Lullaby” and the prog-rock instrumental “Sisters of the Red Sun” never expand on their initial impressions. A great leap forward.

[Ira Robbins / Jem Aswad]

See also: Hole, Mike Johnson, Treepeople