Twelve Days, Seven Discs, Three Dolls—and One Definite Recommendation

By tradition at this time of the year, the landscape resounds with “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with its curious catalog of partridges, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, geese, and swans (as well as golden rings, maids, ladies, lords, pipers, and drummers). Such gross ornithological fetishism may once have sufficed for the holiday, but today’s consumer culture transcends airborne guano factories, mostly. In that regard, let’s contemplate birds of a far finer feather: Tres Femmes.

As regular visitors to the Sports Desk should recall, constituting Tres Femmes are three musicians, all twentysomething, talented, and (duh) female: Kellie Lin Knott, Stolie, and Victoria. The trio last visited St. Louis in August, and that night, after their under-attended but blissful performance at Dressel’s in the Central West End, something odd occurred: I dreamt of them.

In certain quarters, of course, that nocturnal admission will prompt Beavis and Butt-Head sniggers. So be it. Let the record reflect, however, that the dream in question involved no prurient content, more’s the pity; not only am I generally old enough to have fathered any of the women in question, but also my unconscious (again, more’s the pity) enjoys less in common with Hugh Hefner than Hugh Beaumont.

Be that as it may, over the years, I’ve attended concerts by divas ranging from Tina Turner to Neko Case—my appreciation for whom this Web site has endlessly, if not downright evidentially, documented—with no comparable oneiric aftermath. That evening at Dressel’s, though, Tres Femmes saturated my sensorium to such an extent that the trio commandeered my dreams; their performance so registered on my consciousness that my unconscious demanded an encore.

In recollection of that experience, this dispatch qualifies as something of a yuletide PSA. As December 25 approaches closer and closer, frenzied folks hoping to spread Christmas cheer could do much worse than consider giving a gift of music—and for three exceptionally gifted musicians, such folks need look no further than Tres Femmes collectively and individually. In addition to the trio’s 2004 eponymous debut, the singer/songwriters in question have available through CD Baby and other venues various solo efforts, and all seven discs would make fine stocking stuffers, as the following paragraphs, with a little luck, will attest:

Knott self-released 3, a lo-fi EP showcasing her vocals and acoustic guitar, in 2001. In their lyrics, its six tracks (all originals) exhibit impressive literacy and range from “Maybe,” with its deft use of repetitio, through the metonymy of “This House” and the epanalepsis of “Victoria’s Armor,” to “Happy Ever After,” a subtle social critique counterpoising traditional gender roles and personal goals. Also included on the EP is “The Blue Stared Back,” an aching narrative of sibling rivalry further establishing Knott as a portraitist of considerable promise. Earlier this year, she followed 3 with Comfortable, another self-release to whose dozen tracks various other musicians, among them her father, contributed. Here Knott continues her portraiture with “In Africa,” a heartbreaker inspired by her mother’s work as a teacher; “The Usual,” a testament to the small comforts of routine; and “Salt and Sand,” a deceptively understated tale of marital anomie. On “Pearl,” meanwhile, she elegizes “a lonely Texas girl” whose identity will be clear to anyone with even minimal knowledge of rock—“So she took another swallow and played the masquerade/Until she couldn’t find herself in the character she’d made.” It’s a moving tribute from one musician to another across the decades.

Almost precisely four years ago, Stolie too self-released a self-titled CD. The ten-track disc opens with the puckish humor and Spanish influences of “Inside the Guitar,” continues with the deliciously ethereal “Maybe I Might” (reprised on Tres Femmes), and concludes with “Picasso,” a funny bit of sass that may or may not also go by the title “Beautification.” After a limited-edition live EP that’s no longer available, Screaming Galaxy Records earlier this year released her nine-track Satire-Laden Melodies, co-produced by Stolie and the enigmatically named Albino Red, who also contributed bass, keyboards, trumpet, turntables, drum programming, background vox, sampling, effects programming, and electric guitar, according to the liner notes. Among its high points number “All Our Tomorrows” (whose vocals radiate warmth) and “Up to the Highlands” (whose lyrics border on dada—“An old man swallowed Scotland/He’s got a dog that he calls Ireland”). Its other felicities aside, though, the disc’s title track, which opens Satire-Laden Melodies, comes as a revelation: an impressively robust and funky production, pantherish and alluring, its sound approximates the urban electricity of neon pulsing on chrome in a rain-slick alley. College and community radio should love it.

Last but scarcely least, in 1999, Victoria—with drummer Brad Harbidge, bassist Lefteris Moumdjis, and guitarist Tuck Stocking—released the whimsically titled Victoria and the Ultra Pink Bicycle Incident. On it, Victoria wrote all eight tracks except the opener, “Never Feel a Thing,” a co-write with Moumdjis. Standouts include “Fireworld,” with its blast-furnace intro and crystalline vocals from Victoria, who also contributes guitar on the disc; “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” with its comparison of love to lab-animal testing; and “Not a Crime,” an amusing meditation on…well…gettin’ some. The 11-track Still followed Victoria and the Ultra Pink Bicycle Incident last year. Beyond some guitar work on one track by Danny DeMatos, the co-writer of that and another number, the Obus Music disc narrows the spotlight to Victoria’s own guitar and vocals, with judicious overdubbing. Still, in general, also extends her focus on affairs of the heart, as on the ambivalent “Alone,” the plaintive “A Little Bit of Love,” and the winsome “Start Over.” On “The Fate Song,” moreover, Victoria acerbically observes, “Sometimes falling in love’s like pulling the trigger”—thematically recasting testosterockers’ longtime “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” take on amore.

Otherwise, the trio’s debut as such, Tres Femmes, appeared around the start of summer from Obus Music/Screaming Galaxy Records and earned plaudits in these precincts in mid-August. As noted at that time, the ten-track disc comprises three contributions each from Knott, Stolie, and Victoria, as well as a cover of Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne’s “Free Fallin’.” Among other numbers, Tres Femmes features a reprise of Knott’s “Bring on the Rain” (my personal favorite of all of the threesome’s songs, either individually or collectively), Stolie’s longing “Walk Too Fast,” and Victoria’s sultry “Tower Drive.” More information on it awaits just a mouse-click or two away at the trio’s Web site, www.tresfemmes.com. Those seeking to learn more of Tres Femmes’ solo works, meanwhile, need only direct their browsers to www.kellielinknott.com, www.stolie.com, and www.victoriavox.com. As submitted earlier in this dispatch, any one or more of the seven CDs described here should thrill the average music fan on the reader’s Christmas list—and would definitely be far classier than gift certificates to Mickey D’s and far simpler than a trip to an aviary.

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