Release Date: Aug 24, 2010
Record label: Kill Rock Stars
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
It would be easy to look at Grass Widow and lump them in with all the noisy girl pop bands of 2010; they certainly are noisy and poppy enough (and the ubiquitous Frankie Rose played drums in an early incarnation of the group). What makes them stand out from the crowd on their first record for Kill Rock Stars, Past Time, is the care they take with their vocals. All three of the bandmembers sing and their sweet, unschooled voices dart and weave around each other magically.
Egalitarian songwriting and the lack of a front person may presume the lack of a focal point. Grass Widow, a San Francisco post-punk trio that favors structure and form over grating guitar and speed, use this approach to their benefit, collaboratively writing songs and sharing vocal duties. Obvious touchstones are the breathiness of The Slits and The Raincoats' dynamism and penchant for building emotive songs.
It’s nothing but laziness to lump Grass Widow in with current crop of girl-group revivalists, the Best Vivian Dum Dum Girls Coasts et al. Not that you’d blame someone much for doing so; the surface similarities are readily apparent: scratchy, lo-fi tendencies, surf-side guitars, bass and double-time drums, the backward nod to female pop of the past. Yet Grass Widow defy easy categorization.
San Francisco-based female trio Grass Widow join a slew of recent DIY post-punk revivalist groups-- Vivian Girls, the Bitters, Crocodiles-- but the band's loose, meandering guitars and colorful vocals bring something new to the scene. Formed in 2007 from the remnants of the band Shitshorm after drummer Frankie Rose moved on to Vivian Girls, Grass Widow's three members share vocal duties, and the voices range from child-like to choir-ready, making for a delivery that can be harmonious when it needs to be, but is just as interesting when it isn't. Hannah Lew (bass), Raven Mahon (guitar), and Lillian Maring (drums) each seem to represent a different set of emotions with their voices-- say, timid and shy, sad and mournful, and strong and bitter-- as if they're performing three different dramatic parts.
Despite the low fidelity of these songs, and the fact that Grass Widow is a trio of women, it'd be awfully reductive, and not to mention dismissive, to lump them in with the likes of Vivian Girls as part of a movement. For one thing, Grass Widow is much more concerned with precision -- with riffs, with clear melodies, with moving parts in their songs -- than with being some sneering step-daughter of Phil Spector. Past Time is a distinct document from a unified band.
Lots of the original riot grrrls are now Real Adults with mortgages and stretch marks, so it’s awesome to read that Hannah, Raven and Lillian want to kick-start an intelligent new ladycentric movement. [b]‘Uncertain Memory’[/b] couldn’t do their intention greater justice if it went round routinely torching the last gaudy vestiges of Girl Power: their cute atonal harmonies sound like [a]Deerhoof[/a]’s [b]Satomi Matsuzaki[/b] fronting [a]The Long Blondes[/a] with [a]Sleater-Kinney[/a]’s blood fresh rawness. The only problem is, so does the entire album.
Nymph Nymph, from New York, sounds as if it’s from everywhere and nowhere. This group’s first, self-titled album, on the Social Registry label, begins with the sound of Matty McDermott’s hollow-bodied electric guitar, playing curled and emphatic Malian riffs with amplifier settings that sound like Neil Young’s, loud and tough and warm and hugely echoing. Then the record stops and starts through drum rolls and cymbal crashes and rattled bells, with theatrical yelping, wordless vocals by Eri Shoji.
There's nostalgia for the Xeroxed and stapled not-so-distant past on Grass Widow's Kill Rock Stars debut. Fortunately, the San Francisco female trio's circumvention of gender-based comparisons comes in deconstruction, making shaky tempos and tiered harmonies work as a group. In less than 30 minutes, guitarist Raven Mahon, bassist Hannah Lew, and drummer Lillian Maring stuff their instrumentation into a communal pocket, as on Past Time openers "Uncertain Memory" and "Shadow." Dynamic shifts in "11 of Diamonds" are the band's trademark, but shared harmonics are often more interesting than the music, and sometimes they're racing with them, as on "Give Me Shapes," which finds the band members in separate keys but impeccably in sync.