Bettie Serveert – Palomine

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Bettie Serveert, on the one hand, seem classically indie, yet on the other, I can’t think of a contemporary equivalent or heir. They apparated in the early ‘90s, trading on Carol Van Dijk’s accented English and propelled by the twisting interplay of her and Peter Visser’s guitars, with a solid melodic sensibility and overall unassuming presence. In fact, they came out of the Netherlands, and in further fact, Van Dijk is Canadian, and English is her native tongue. They have released ten albums since 1992, though never broke through here, even as they toured with Belly, Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk, and Jeff Buckley. The band name translates roughly to “Bettie Serves,” taken from a book by Dutch tennis player Betty Stöve. There are definitely songs of merit on their other albums – some of which I used to own – and you should check them out as well.

What I Think of This Album

There is a overriding sense of coolness to this effort. First, Van Dijk tends to sing in an unaffected, blasé manner, sort of like Debbie Harry or Chrissie Hynde, pingponging between indifference and confidence. Second, her accent creates distance between her and the listener. Third, the music, which sounds like if Neil Young were a member of Television (replacing Tom Verlaine, I guess, but I leave it up to you), makes no effort to be inviting, often changing tempo and style within a given song. Fourth, this all coalesces into something more colloquially “cool” – Van Dijk is a capable, at times powerful, vocalist, dripping attitude and fronting a talented guitar-heavy indie band that muscularly bashes out rockers and can go quiet on a dime.

My only complaint is that because most songs undergo stylistic shifts, they tend to blend into each other, without a lot to distinguish them; unless you’re paying close attention, you never know if the band has moved on to a new song or it’s still the same one from 90 seconds ago. But if you want to put something on and revel in tuneful guitar noise, you can’t go wrong with this.

Opener “Leg” starts out deceptively quietly but at about three minutes, Van Dijk’s vocals become more forceful and Visser’s guitar gains prominence, and things only expand from there. At roughly four and a half minutes in, Visser gives us a pretty fair warning of what’s to come for the rest of the album. “Palomine” is poppier fare but similar to “Leg” in that it shifts styles partway through, blossoming from moody seed to robust flora, tendrils reaching toward the sun. With a Buffalo Tom sort of intro, “Kid’s Alright” is a twisted rocker, all guitar squalls and dark intonation and Van Dijk’s strangled, distorted vocals; there is nice bass part here. The band’s unwillingness to be pigeonholed is amply on display on “Brain Tag,” as this ballad – which is a showcase for Van Dijk – eventually becomes something more. And by more, I mean louder and replete with distorted, gnarled guitar lines. “Tom Boy” was the indie hit, and it’s a little more upbeat than the other tracks, but not wildly different. I’m honestly not sure why this was the one that got all the attention. The melody of “Under the Surface” is appealing, Van Dijk gets in some strong singing, and the multiple tempo shifts lead up to an excellent lead guitar part.

“Balentine” annoys me a little because I always think she is saying “valentine;” probably my least favorite song here. The bass propels “This Thing Nowhere,” with a Crazy Horse guitar part and another quality vocal performance. “Healthy Sick” is a Sebadoh cover, of all things, and it actually sounds pretty good, but seems like filler. “Sundazed to the Core” is, given the title, not surprisingly the longest track, though it’s also not the drug-fueled exploration you might expect; it’s basically a pop song that keeps on expanding like a novelty balloon. The bass on this is fun and Visser’s solo is a highlight. “Palomine (small)” is “Palomine” but quieter and slower and shorter and far less necessary, though again, the guitars are undeniably cool.

How much does this band love its guitars? Three tracks are over six minutes long, and eight of the eleven extend past the four minute mark.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitars – Visser and Van Dijk raise a glorious racket.

Release Date

1992

The Cover Art

I like this; it makes me laugh. I’m not sure it is intended as a joke, but it works as one anyway. The band is indeed as charming as this sketchily manufactured dog, but there is nothing cute about the music on this album. The color scheme is effective (it’s actually red and not the orange suggested by the image I uploaded); the font is fine but could be a touch larger.

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