Matt on Music: Bettie Serveert's 'Oh, Mayhem!'

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Bettie Serveert’s new album, ‘Oh, Mayhem!’ is the group’s first complete success.

It’s interesting to look into what happened to all of the ’90s indie bands after the ’90s ended. Pavement broke up, of course, while Modest Mouse’s success continued to grow. A lot of them lost much of their popularity, but how their later discography held up varies from band to band. R.E.M.’s later music never held a candle to their older stuff, while The Magnetic Fields released many great albums after their 1999 classic “69 Love Songs.”

Bettie Serveert are most well-known for their 1992 album “Palomine,” but they only got better after the ’90s ended. Their 2003 release “Log 22” was superior to anything they’d released prior, and would be remembered more fondly if they hadn’t released it so late in their career. Their new album, “Oh, Mayhem!” tops “Log 22,” managing to be the group’s first complete success.

Released more than 20 years after their debut, “Oh, Mayhem!” is an LP more terrific than anyone could have anticipated. It could be compared to “Tattoo You,” if you ignore that “Tattoo You” was not the Rolling Stones’ best record and it only came out 17 years after their debut.

One of the many reasons that “Oh, Mayhem!” works so well is because everyone involved is putting in their all. The guitar work, bass playing and Carol van Dijk’s vocals all rock incredibly hard, bringing Sleater-Kinney to mind more than either The Corin Tucker Band or Wild Flag. Meanwhile, like a lot of great art, van Dijk’s lyrics seem to be influenced by a broken heart.

The opening track “Shake-Her” may be the most rocking song the band has ever released, featuring a riot-grrrl guitar riff over van Dijk yelling lines like “No, you’re not allowed to sit down here in anticipation/Oh, there is no doubt, you’re gonna hear the allegation.” She carries herself well in the song, refusing to let the hurt she’s feeling drag her down. Instead, she helps it lift her up, sounding more confident and assertive than she ever has.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her soft side, though. On “Had2Byou,” the slowest and catchiest song on the album, she sings, “And though I know it doesn’t matter/Every time my heart was shattered and broken in two/It had to be you.”

“Monogamous” is a jazzy track that stands out due to its Fiona Apple-like bizarreness, but it has an extremely important lyrical role on the album as well. Every other song paints van Dijk as hurt, but this one goes further, showing her as someone who has just about lost her faith in humanity’s ability to choose just one mate. “There ain’t no such thing as a monogamous love/There is always someone else that you’ll be thinking off” is a brutal line because of its utter hopelessness. “You can say all you want/But you know it’s true/Mother Nature made no exception of you,” meanwhile, attacks her ex. He’s not a special case, but neither is anyone, according to her. We’re all just part of the same un-monogamous species. It’s unlikely that we’ll hear a more hard-hitting breakup song all year.

Like all of the greatest heartbreak albums, “Oh, Mayhem!” deals with feelings of superiority and inferiority to the former lover, anger, frustration and helplessness, all culminating in a final track that states, “Carpe your diem/Is part of my being.” It is an angry, bitter album, but it’s also likely to be one of the best of the year.

Grade: A

Key tracks: “Had2Byou,” “Shake-Her,” “Monogamous,” “Receiver” and “D.I.Y.”


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