When I started writing this review, I wrote down only one sentence fragment. I honestly couldn’t type another word for quite some time. Stacey’s Spacey by Marcia Custer is that jarring.
The fragment was “Alternative means of expression”.
What a vague way to express my initial feelings, right? It sounds like something a bored psychologist would say when trying to explain to an overly-concerned mother that her growing daughter contains unimaginable depths and can’t be expected to just stay cute and clueless for the rest of her life.
Wait, now we might be getting somewhere…
Stacey’s Spacey, beneath everything—and this album really is a lot of things—is about identity. Stacey, Custer’s stage persona, is a looming paradox disguised as a typical caricature of the girl we all knew in school — you know, the one who would walk up and talk to you as if you were one of her closest friends when you, in fact, had no idea what grade she was even in. She would stay and talk to you for a while at the lunch table or in the hallway while you were waiting for your turn at the water fountain. You would then part ways and never talk to her again. You might see her around once in a while, but only in passing. You’d ask your friends who she was, and they would shrug. Decades later, you might recall her face and wonder what the hell happened to her. What was her deal?
This is who Stacey is — to me, anyway. She’s a mysterious answer to these ponderings. She’s a glimpse into the soul of that girl none of us ever knew.
Why is Stacey a looming paradox? Well, though she babbles on about arbitrary things throughout the album (asking over and over again how everyone’s doing, how she can definitely win a cartwheel contest, etc), I’m entranced by the delivery of it all. It’s not what she’s saying, but rather how she says it. Or chants it. Or screams it. Sometimes she’s not saying anything at all, but instead just crooning/groaning/whining (see “Sick Set” — the longest and most unsettling track on the album). Perhaps it gets to me because I’m vaguely aware of Custer’s stage presence (meaning I’ve only seen short videos on YouTube and Instagram). I honestly can’t imagine what it feels like to stand there with a beer and watch her simultaneously play with children’s toys and hypnotize everyone with a loop station.
Don’t get me wrong — even if one is not at all aware of her onstage antics, Custer’s music is no less strange or enduring. It by all means stands on its own as a truly memorable audio-only experience. Stylistically, she touches on various outsider sub-genres, but has ultimately crafted something wholly original with Stacey’s Spacey. I’m not entirely sure what I would call it. Lo-Fi Theatrical Anti-Pop? Role-Playing Noise Collage? Whatever. Labels don’t matter beyond hashtags and search engine optimization. Something tells me Custer could care less.
The spoken-word aspect of the album speaks to what bands like King Missile were doing in the 90s, but is much more effective in that it works with the music to create a unified theme — whereas King Missile songs are not really related beyond style/execution.
Overall, the compositions evolve at a bubbly place; there is an undeniable chemistry between Custer’s voice and the instruments she uses to (for lack of a better term) frame Stacey — cheap keyboards and a loop station being her main go-to devices (I think). Though a number of the songs are built around loops, they are by no means repetitive. They often grow gradually into apocalyptic climaxes — which points to Custer’s underlying compositional sense.
Yes, Marcia Custer is much more than just an outsider artist trying to perplex a basement full of noise-heads and gutter-punks. There’s something much deeper going on in her music, and it’s not so easy to put a finger on. I’ve tried, but I don’t really feel like I’ve done it much justice here. Really, I don’t believe she wants anyone to understand it. However, I do believe she wants us to listen anyway. So, please do. Her cassette is still for sale via the always quality Unifactor Records out of Cleveland, Ohio.