Audio Mixer: Simon "Ding" Archer.
Recording information: Gung Ho, USA; Wavelength.
Where Grand Duchy's first album Petit Fours felt like a sampler of all the different directions the band could pursue, Let the People Speak finds Violet Clark coming into her own as a songwriter and performer. It may not be coincidental that she wrote many of these songs while Frank Black was on tour with the Pixies; at any rate, he takes a more subordinate role on this album which lets Clark's abilities shine, particularly on "See-Thru You," which has more bite than all of Petit Fours combined and on "White Out," where her jagged vocals and riffs bounce over a Motorik-tinged rhythm. There's a lot more personality on Let the People Speak -- or maybe that should be personalities: not only does Clark adopt many more musical personae than she did before, the album also features voice-overs from Phoenix DJ Jonathan L, whose smoky ramblings are sometimes clever, sometimes too self-referential, but nevertheless a distinct artistic choice. This ambition also pops up on "Dark Sparkles and the Beat"'s bittersweet expanse and the mischievous role-playing on "Geode"'s glam fantasia. Indeed, Clark has enough going on here that at times Black's contributions, such as the nice-enough but somewhat meandering "Where Is John Frum?" and "Annie Bliss," don't feel strictly necessary. Then again, as on Petit Fours, the couple have so much fun playing together on tracks like the sneering "Shady" and the Warhol-worshipping "Silver Boys" that it reaffirms that Grand Duchy is a partnership, and one that improves with time. While not everything works on Let the People Speak, it has enough originality and energy that it bodes well for wherever Clark and Black want to go next. ~ Heather Phares