I first heard of Kristeen Young in 2012. Morrissey was touring Latin America and made the unusual decision to play shows in some Argentine cities other than Buenos Aires. This doesn’t happen often; so-called Latin American tours are usually comprised of four or five shows in the key cities and maybe a couple of shows in Mexico before hastily heading back home. Morrissey’s decision to tour several cities within Argentina gave me the opportunity to take a little road trip and maybe get to know a city I’d never been to. My friends and I decided to head on over to beautiful Rosario, a smallish city northwest of Buenos Aires that I fell deeply in love with, and vowed to return to… but have yet to return to. Someday, I’m sure.
It wasn’t until I was already standing in the audience that I wondered who the opening act would be, if there even was going to be an opening act at all. A small but extravagantly dressed figure stepped out onto the stage just a few moments later, quietly greeted the audience, and launched into the first of several musical blasts; misshapen pop songs with serpentine melodies, clanging keyboards atop crashing drums, and a mighty voice that could quickly oscillate between beauty and terror, between punk rock bravado and operatic octave runs, holding it all together. The audience was quickly won over and remained thoroughly enthralled for the rest of her all-too-short set. As quickly as she materialized before us, she was off the stage for Morrissey to perform. I remember looking around and seeing stunned bewilderment. Like a hurricane had suddenly blown through the audience, it took us a moment to compose ourselves and ask “what… what was that?”.
I looked into her career after the show, and found an abundance of riches in her back catalogue, from the ornate pop stylings of V the Volcanic to the brutal dissonance of Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd On-Looker, through the fiery drama of Breasticles (what a great album title), her discography is crowded with gems. Her artistic throughline seems to be gladly amorphous (or maybe gladly polymorphous), but one constant I’ve found is that, tonal and stylistic divergences notwithstanding, what pulls these songs through is a strong emotional core: even at her most immediately accessible, you believe every word. Even at her most aggressive and chaotic, it’s never for effect. Her wild stage outfits, a throwback to her glam rock heritage, may distract from the fact that her craft is not dependent on artifice, that these songs are thoroughly lived.
Kristeen has recently unveiled a new track, the first cut from her upcoming album The Knife Shift. The song is titled “Pearl of a Girl” and it’s all I’ve been listening to for the last several hours. An angular, energetic rave-up denouncing the reductiveness of institutional labeling and gender conventions (I think?– I haven’t had a good look at the lyrics), this track is the best kind of earworm: hooky yet confounding, melodic yet otherworldly, with a pervading sense of menace running through its chorus. It’s also, on a base level, just a blast to listen to, especially with Kristeen’s impassioned vocals (and vocalizations), oriental keyboards and the frenzied drumming of none other than Dave Grohl. I mean, damn.
The Knife Shift is produced by the legendary Tony Visconti and can be purchased, on physical formats, at Kristeen’s official store. There is no digital format yet, but I imagine there’ll be an announcement on that soon. In the meantime, you can stream “Pearl of a Girl” from the Soundcloud link below: