If you’ve ever seen the Mars Volta in concert, you’ve seen guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López’s chaotic and kinetic playing at the heart of the Los Angeles band’s often difficult and always challenging music. If you go on YouTube and watch videos of Guadalajara garage-punk band Le Butcherettes, you’ll see singer Teri Gender Bender performing in a blood red-splattered white dress and with an attitude of … well, she chose to use the name Teri Gender Bender. Enough said. A confrontational tone has been both artists’ stock in trade.
So just how is it that together, fronting the band Bosnian Rainbows on its debut album, “Bosnian Rainbows,” they make music that is, in many ways, inviting?
Such songs as “Torn Maps,” with gauzy electronics and dashes of relatively restrained guitar, at the very least, might conjure up some nice memories of old favorites, in particular Siouxsie and the Banshees, the ’80s English band that transformed punk aggression into lush pop. Besides the pleasant, naturally emotive, if slightly distanced voice of Gender Bender -- whose real name, by the way, is Teresa Suárez -- there’s that quasi-Goth aura of black velvet and eyeliner. In the song “Turtle Neck,” arguably the poppiest offering, it provides a stark, shadowed beauty.
Easy listening? Hardly. Rodríguez-López and Suárez, joined by Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboard and electronics player Nicci Kasper, craft textures that manage to at once be cold and warm, light and dark. That’s as it should be with a band whose very name implies a mix of conflict and hope -- the mix that the front pair say has been a goal since Rodríguez-López first saw Suárez command an audience during a power outage at a Guadalajara club a few years ago. Wrapped in the music, though, are scenes of emotional depth, often unsettled and unsettling, played out through Suárez’s voice.
“I Cry for You” is all death and darkness. “Morning Sickness,” alluding to impending birth, is no less dark. How much of this is personal and how much metaphorical is, maybe purposefully, unclear. But in light of that, the songs that bookend the album take on extra meaning, bespeaking of a most intimate matter, the bond and the distance between parent and child.
Opening song “Eli,” with an amorphous, industrial tone, is all questions, all dislocation. “I’ve been so cruel, mother of mine,” sings Suárez. “So why do you smile at me?” It’s the prodigal welcomed home, but confused and troubled by that reception.
With the closing “Mother, Father, Set Us Free,” Suárez seems in the grip of impending loss, while seeking her own peace. Here, and throughout the album, she goes face to face with her fears, with failings that mark one’s life, but with some hope for redemption.
“Mommy, look into my eyes,” she pleas. “For years I felt your pain / Tonight’s the night I set you free.”
It’s the difference between being confrontational and confronting. And in that, it’s oddly comforting.