New York soloist and self-confessed loner, Elizabeth Sharp, squeals as she thrashes her drums in a compelling, driven style that forces the listener to give her their full attention, attention you get the feeling she would naturally shy away from. However, as Ill Ease, the one-woman band she personifies, her controversial (although in many ways narcissistically appealing) lyrical content and blind drum thrashing draws people to her.
Opener, “Too much sucky (I hate drum machines)” is surely just provocation for the audience that is matched by her confrontational and sex-less vocals. There’s no sexing it up for the microphone and you get the distinct impression that Ill Ease is not a ‘girl’s girl’, seeming much more concerned with politics (“two-party system”), one night stands (“too much sucky, not enough fucky”) and drugs (“one hell of a bender”) than pining over relationships or being concerned, as many other musicians seem to be, with fashion. Her subject matter, at least in the cutthroat world of rock and pop, is generally reserved for angsty male guitar bands, more so than, albeit intelligent and angry, solo female musicians.
Her oh-so-New York voice is deep and the words trip off each other with ease and subtlety, making it clear she is not trying to impress with an image but more with the sound and content of her songs, and ironically, by not trying to impress she always does. The heavy drum beats are the driving force of the whole album, while the words dictate NY life and her contempt at fashionistas and the general ‘scene’. Her competence as a musician and originality in style – kind of throbbing beats, twangy repetitive prominent guitar and dry, impassive, monotone vocals (besides the yelps) – sets her a step above other female musicians in the current climate of either uber chic, uber sex or uber fey. It seems her priority lies in the message and image she is sending out about herself as a person and artist, rather than as a woman simply to be gazed at, and this alongside the tightness of the sound sets her apart from many contemporary female musicians in the pop world who often seem to be promoting liberation for women as being achievable through displaying oneself as simply a sex object, rather than as an artist in one’s own right.
However, despite these attributes, it could be argued that All Systems A Go-Go! is not as immediately catchy as some of these disposable pop hits coming from more frivolous women singers, and the 7-minute long “Power turns me on!” might find those with a short attention span waning. The message is indeed powerful and the riffs do grow on you, but the random noises and talking could be seen as self-indulgent despite its originality. However, despite this downfall, it is refreshing to hear music from someone who is concerned more about her music and art than how she will appear on the artwork of her album sleeve.