Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Erotic Elysium of Jennifer Charles

Her countenance is the breath you feel upon your neck as darkness swallows your soul. She would slay a succubus with a whisper, the demon's victim taken as her lover. Waking becomes the nightmare which steals you from the blessed meadows of death's sweet dream. Words like smooth fingers born of smoke undress your psyche, exposing wanton desire. A lotus blooms and drowns in bloody tears, salty steam wafting from sanguine droplets. Departed spirits rise from the dust of deceased lovers as she telepaths her unspoken intention: "I want to bleed your cedar."

If actresses Traci Lords (Cry-Baby, Blade) and Juliet Landau (Ed Wood, "Drusilla" of TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer) birthed a daughter together she would look like sultry songstress Jennifer Charles. Charles, a Washington, D.C. native born on November 15, in the year of the surrealist torch singer, was raised in an eclectic, free-thinker's household. With a vamp vocalist mother and a jazz-loving dee-jay father, Charles, nursed on the musical influences of Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Trouble Funk, as well as classic standard soloists such as Anita O'Day, and Mel Torme, has developed a tuneful terpsichore which is searingly sensual yet wholly uncategorizable. Part Lydia Lunch, Diamanda Galas, and Deborah Harry, Charles' steamy repertoire also conjurs references to David Bowie, Cocteau Twins, and Kraftwerk.

Charles spent her high school years at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts after which she pursued a BFA in drama at New York University. According to Charles' own bio at, during this period she acted in off-off Broadway theatre, played in a band in college called Prayer Box, started doing readings of her poetry at places like St Marks Church, Dixon Place, and X Funeral Home. She also occasionally did strange jazz gigs, curated a performance series at The Knitting Factory, performed with Negativland, worked with the homeless back in DC in a project called Voices From the Street, narrated by Martin Sheen, worked as an artists model, and improvised as a bartender.

Teaming with guitarist Oren Bloedow, a master musician who has worked with the iconic Brian Wilson, enigmatic experimentalist John Zorn, Dog's Eye View, Jewel, and the Lounge Lizards, Charles co-founded the group Elysian Fields, a smoky, sensual, yet virginally smooth, existentially lonely-at-midnight come-hither band which made a stunning mid-1990s debut, a self-titled MCA EP (Elysian Fields), much-lauded by alternative college audiences as well as the fickled fanzine followers of everything fantastique and trendy. One could easily picture the group's music heard as the soundtrack to the film noir features of the 1940s and 1950s.

Blessedly, the talents of both Charles and Bloedow (who appeared as a band member in the 1992 film documentary John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards Live in Berlin) originate from a creative core timelessly untouched by "fifteen minutes of fame" epithets. Lest listeners think Charles' brand of hypnotic vocal hypersexualia (what some have termed as a "musical wet dream") is a studio-derived performance prop or a consciously contrived play-act, one wave of the voluptuous vibration emanating from Charles' vocal chords should be sufficient evidence of her erotically empathic effect. In the song Rolling (from the 1996 Elysian Fields CD Bleed Your Cedar, an ode to a lover's sexual intentions, the lyrics seem to breathlessly evolve from the singer's driving desire and pervasive passions:

I wanna steam you open
Wanna swim your ocean
We would fly
I wanna suck your motions
Exorcise devotions
Never die
And growing you inside the star's eye
You fascinate the loops with open belt
If dreams were we
I'd be the sea
And you're some crazy fisherman
Your line's on fire
You're caught in my tide
Your sky's exspiring
You're rolling again
I wanna let you see it
Wanna truly free it
You and I
I wanna bleed your cedar
Until it gives me fever and I'm high
And knowing you, you'll ride the far side
You liberate the moon from it's hung shelf
If dreams were we, I'd take the lead
You're down on your knees
The wave is rising
A blink is all you need
Now you're inside me
Rolling again

With the release of their 2000 LP Queen of the Meadow, Elysian Fields' classically-inspired, pre-Goth sensibilities enticed listeners into a darkly enchanted mystic dimension of supplication and release. Instead of surrounding and enslaving the audience, Bloedow's instrumentals deconstruct claustrophobic notions of subservience, creating a perfect foil for Charles' allure as passive dominatrix extraordinaire. Waxing grim reaper poetic ("Never be ashamed my love, our hearts are open graves") Charles transmutes death's darkness into promised plateaus of rebirth. The title track, Queen of the Meadow, illustrates the mythic joy of an emotionally vampiric relationship:

I'm in league
With the queen of the meadow
I'm in league
With the queen of the meadow
I bring her stars to feed her thirst
I bring her seed to swallow
She rides bareback through it all
And whispers by the willow
The queen of the meadow
With her widow?s heart she sings her song
To the stars she carries on
And it?s peaceful in her loving arms
Peaceful in the meadow
Peaceful in her loving arms
Peaceful in the meadow
I'm in league
With the queen of the meadow
And as the sun I rise upon
The pastures of her charms
Riveted to her mystery beds
Drawn to her fragrant sorrow
The queen of the meadow
With her widow?s heart she sings her song
To the stars she carries on
And it's peaceful in her loving arms
Peaceful in the meadow
Peaceful in her loving arms
Peaceful in the meadow
And I'm burning in her fiery fields
And I'm sleeping in the meadow
And I'm burning in her loving arms
The queen of the meadow

Trancing in the twilight of feral pheromones and romantic madness, Elysian Fields's most recent release, Dreams That Breathe Your Name (2004), features the track exotica of such cuts as Narcosmicoma, and Shrinking Heads In The Sunset. Langorous but not lurid, after a decade of collaborative development with Bloedow, Jennifer Charles, flowing with energy of the kundalini, has transcended the confinement of typification, floating artfully and intelligently through the dreamscape of universal libido.