With piano that glitters and smolders, and vocals that seethe and soar, Sarah RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins' songs are a wish list of things we should have said. "You should have loved me," the heroine laments to her lover/victim in the band's namesake ballad, Self-Employed Assassin. In the delightfully nasty Crushing, a rising starlet is rebuked for her ruthless ambition: "I hope all the people that you stepped on didn't stain your dress."
Rabdau warbles, whispers and wails these quips with a voice that most closely resembles that of Bjork or Elizabeth Frasier of the Cocteau Twins. Rabdau's piano pounds and cascades, drawing equally from Erik Satie and Phil Spector, with unapologetic nods to the usual girl-at-piano influences. Drummer Matt Graber (Mascara, ex-Caged Heat) demurs, bolsters and punctuates, always keeping the melody in the forefront.Self-Employed Assassins formed in 2005, as Rabdau was forging a new direction in the aftermath of her well-received William Orbit-influenced release, "Benevolent Apollo." Graber, then living in Israel, discovered Rabdau's music on the internet. "It was so strange to have a drummer contact me," says Rabdau. "Most of them avoid me like the black death because I'm not rock enough for them."
Immediately upon Graber's return to Boston, the two "hit it off like brother and sister," says Rabdau. On stage, this connection is palpable. Watching Rabdau and Graber perform feels like you're intercepting a note passed in study hall.
After two years of developing the songs live, Self-Employed Assassins set to work on an album, with Peter Moore (Count Zero, Think Tree, Blue Man Group) producing. The album mostly features the duo unadorned, occasionally embellished by a string quartet and guitar that call to mind This Mortal Coil.
Collectively, the album's songs seem to depict a 21st century Emily Dickinson, emerging from her seclusion to find herself both exhilarated and terrified to be experiencing life first-hand. Hyperbolic figures are often called upon to illustrate the magnitude of her internal strife—a rejected lover so bitter that she becomes an assassin, or a girlfriend so oppressed that she feels like the imprisoned quadruple amputee in the 1993 film Boxing Helena.
Self-Employed Assassins also offer upbeat gems such as Jackie, a tribute to a quadragenarian rocker who, in full E-Street Band glory, finally gets his due. Autumn Spills evokes the first breath of a fresh new season, where anything seems possible and the narrator deliberates on whether a wayward romance can, or should, be reclaimed.
Carving out a niche that transcends scenes and sub-genres, Sarah RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins have shared bills with Nicole Atkins and the Sea, Winterpills and HUMANWINE. The band now looks forward to supporting the album, bringing its energetic live show to dark halls throughout the United States and beyond.
Not a day too soon—there are too many things waiting to be said.