Let us take a trip down memory lane to the film Natural Born Killers, where Oliver Stone carved a surrealistic vision from the gallows of mainstream media and sensationalized criminal portrayal. The motif here was furthermore subjected to the hands of ’90s era Trent Reznor with a soundtrack that both intensified the movie’s messages, and stood on its own a masterpiece of the decade. Sift through the chaos and gaze with red lenses donned at a pivotal scene: Juliette Lewis as the manic “kitten off its leash” Mallory Knox, chanting lyrics to “Born Bad” while appearing to revel in her own supposed grand insanity. Said event was captured in audio on the Reznor-produced soundtrack, and sits alongside fellow inclusions L7’s “Shitlist” and Jane’s Addiction’s “Sex Is Violent” as key tuneage to add ambiance to any psychopath’s beloved massacre. The first time I ever saw this moment on VHS, a thought grazed my nose as I took a deep breath and with eyes wide said, “Janis Joplin”.
It has been about 15 years since Lewis’ memorable performance and beyond the silver screen she dabbled with a punk rock sound, going out with a bang in the real world and in a real way with her outfit Juliette & The Licks. It’s now 2009, and while a certain writer was regrettably not a devoted follower of Ms. Lewis, the film star turned rock star has shined so brightly to the masses, and here I stand taken aback. Juliette Lewis has now officially gone the solo route and presented us with Terra Incognita, a profound revisit to the mid ’90s and proof positive that those of us who gave her no thought at all post-production were sorely mistaken.
The one minute intro serves as a descent into madness, blasted apart by “Noche Sin Fin”, with almost tribal thunder present on drums and vocals reminiscent appropriately of fellow Killers alumnus Patti Smith or the band Nico Vega. There is passion and decadence in Lewis’ vocals, as if she were at the peak of an orgasm on each consecutive note. Apparently not being one to kill the mood too quickly, Lewis braves the title track and comes in like the third party of a ménage Ã trois, swaggering to alternative rock infused with pop vox galore a la Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sinking into track four, “Hard Lovin’ Woman” is a blues song with memories of Mallory Knox seeping from its pores like tainted honey, impossibly existing and yet so damn succulent without reason.
Next up comes “Fantasy Bar”, a song that would feel somewhat at home dubbed over the “bat country” scene from Fear and Loathing, maybe in a fan made tribute to Thompson and Lewis without explanation. “Romeo” is a genetic splicing of lovestruck attitude and acid trips, glazed over with The Mars Volta as is expected since Rodriguez-Lopez helped produce Lewis’ solo debut. Hot off the heels of a Volta classic, this is less reinventing the wheel and more so adding a shiny spinner sans hip-hop associations; “Romeo” is a gem amongst gems here, a hallucinatory and poetic song with no bad vibes. Following suit, a companion song titled “Ghosts” feels like a crash after the aforementioned high, narrated by the spirit of a haunting beat poet and equally as hypnotic.
Honestly, if the first set of songs on Terra Incognita were intended as described — a sex and drug byproduct resulting in beautiful insanity — then our second portion bleeds more an introspective mood, reflecting on past mistakes like a twisted psychiatry session. “All Is For God” could be perhaps the anger and frustration of not understanding one’s true self or origins; “Female Persecution”, the interment into and subsequent dive from denial about one’s own demons; “Uh Huh”, the breath of fresh air surrounding a patient who finally becomes accepting to the real world, positive and otherwise. Finally, the last two tracks “Junkyard Heart” and “Suicide Dive Bombers” appear to be Lewis’ release of said demons and the finality of her imagination and poetry draining upon blank pages respectively.
It is quite possible that this particular journalist is reading way too deeply into a concept that may or may not exist. On the other hand, the tangibility of Terra Incognita‘s messages in audio bliss and Juliette Lewis’ restraint in commercialism being severed lends us this monumental fact: the album currently playing on my computer is not meant for tinny monitor speakers, it is in fact destined for surround sound, for dive bars and amphitheaters, for long drives in the American west while on every drug conceivable. Terra Incognita hit me out of nowhere like (coincidentally) a suicide dive bomber, and one is irrevocably thankful.
Now, excuse me while I howl mercilessly to the gods of Juliette Lewis’ achievement here before settling down with a Pringles can and a DVD copy of Natural Born Killers. Yes ma’am, Mallory Knox did it!