Swati Sharma is a proud lesbian whose name means “birth of a star” in Hindu and whose first orgasm was accompanied by an episode of The Bionic Woman. So it makes sense that her guitar work would be muscular, her lyrics confident and bold. She employs a liberal approach to her instrument (open tuning, percussive strumming, eight strings strung to a 12-string guitar, all reminiscent of Ani DiFranco), fitting for an artist who, as a teenage trombonist, got into trouble for improvising too much. Heaps of guitars are assembled to form shimmering walls of self-described “acoustic metal.” The flanger pedal effects used throughout Small Gods, particularly on “MF” and “Money,” are a little Studio Tricks 101 (though she puts them to good use on “Big Bang,” which begins with a spacey, classic sounding metal riff and then explodes with less than a big bang, but a bang nonetheless), and, unlike DiFranco, she drops the f-bomb in one too many songs. But generally Swati’s lyrics are as fine-tuned as her guitar: she takes on social patriarchy on the opening title track, calling out the futility of trying to compensate for the lack of a bulge in her crotch; buying a prostitute (“unconditional love from a stranger”) causes her to reflect on past lovers on “Blackjack,” on which she sounds a lot like early Sheryl Crow; and she examines the coded cordiality of our tech-heavy culture on “New Me” (“Here’s the situation/Here is the email/‘Hello, how are you?/Would love to see you’/Now here’s what I’m thinking/Here’s what I wish that I was saying/Last night I got off thinking about how sad you are”). She sounds just as comfortable being wistful (“I feel so blessed to feel so sad,” she sings on “2 O’Clock In The A.M.”) as she does acerbic or defeated (“My feelings don’t hurt me/I’m empty, so trendy/Stick it in me”). Like Melissa Etheridge before her, she adds an additional, more complex layer of shame to “I’m On Fire,” Bruce Springsteen’s classic folk tale of “bad desire.” Small Gods may not signal the birth of a star as bright as Springsteen, Etheridge, Crow, or even DiFranco, but it’s one worth keeping an eye on.
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