Can’t, she said

Pub date May 9, 2006
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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It would be hard to imagine a more painfully ironic moniker than Can’t. It’s a name of self-negation, self-defense, and self-defiance. A name that instantly speaks of limitation and deprivation, it revels in its view of the personal-as-political prisoner. The social constraints of gender, sex, love, genre, freedom, and artistic and financial success all hang off of that name like handcuffs on a policeman’s belt. Yet instead of binding Can’t, otherwise known as Jessica Rylan, in self-defeat, she takes the bite out of her critics and detractors, as though she is reclaiming years of doubt and dismissal.

Can’t make noise because she’s a girl

When you peer into the sweaty, black-shirted boy zone of America’s noise underground, you do find women, both as participants and voyeurs, but you won’t find them given much mind. Hypermasculinity is so common among the legions of teen hellions and the ranks of the old guard (both of whom are sex-obsessed and at times sexist) that you could almost mistake it for homoerotic homogeneity. What makes Can’t an anomaly isn’t that she’s a woman but that she is so fearlessly feminine, in the traditional sense. The sounds breathed from her homemade modular synths don’t come off as ladylike they’re as monstrous and violent at the appropriate volumes as the harshest noise. It’s her gentle intimacy with her instrument, the lightness of her voice as it passes through her bent circuits, and the passivity of her gestures as she moves the chaotic parameters of the machine in front of her that imbue her performance with femininity.

Can’t sing about sex and love with sincerity

In the context of her adopted music community, sex is a tool that channels or expresses anger, frustration, and occasionally ecstatic peace. Yet when Can’t sings about it, moving her body like a six-year-old girl and dancing in a faux-Broadway sway, she is vocalizing honest heartbreak. She’s singing about ordinary love, and it’s so disarming, if not necessarily naïve, that you’re left a little embarrassed and a little bit more endeared.

Can’t be a noise musician if her set consists of nursery-rhyme melodies

If, in fact, she is, then you find yourself debating with others about what the hell "noise" is, anyway. Isn’t noise anything that is unclassifiable as music? Isn’t "noise music" about transgression and ambiguity? Doesn’t "noise" reject containment and clarification? What, if anything, shows more of an anarchic disregard for the rules than a noisician who sings folk songs and calls it "noise"?

Can’t be that free

On some level, there is a contradiction here. A cake-and-eat-it-too sort of feeling. She’s been to Bard, she’s traveled the world with some of the most respected noise artists around (Joe Colley, John Wiese, Emil Beaulieau), and she’s released albums titled Can’t Prepares to Fail Again and Can’t vs. the World. Which means she knows exactly what she’s doing and exactly what buttons she’s pushing. She’s on to us. Which means she’ll have the perfect response if you try to dismiss her.

Can’t be a success, yet she is

She is a charismatic and beguiling performer. Her music is mysterious and engaging. The importance and popularity of Can’t in this new age of music will only grow with time. All the harshies and PE enthusiasts in black shirts and camo pants love her, so why don’t the rest of you? SFBG


With Skullcaster, Evil Wikkid Warrior, Gang Wizard, Joel Murach, Joe Rut, and the Great Auk

May 19

The Lab

2948 16th St., SF

Call for time and price.

(415) 864-8855