Release Date: May 29, 2012
Record label: HLR
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Though the Bay Area post-punks probably won’t like hearing it, the triple-stranded harmonies of Grass Widow’s Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon and Lillian Maring owe just as much to their regional forebears in CSNY as they do to their spiritual forebears in The Raincoats. The trio twine their voices around one another, threading their way through skeletal rhythms and barely distorted guitars, the sonic equivalent of a scarlet ribbon caught in a winter tree. And while the dotty cant of Mahon’s guitar playing skews in Sleater-Kinney’s direction, Internal Logic is largely an exhibition of the dramatic power of restraint; despite the raucous opening bars of “Spock on Muni,” the punkish propulsion of the album is implied more frequently than it is stated directly, with the rhythms snapping into place while those three voices diffuse overhead.
In the two years between 2010's Past Time and third album Internal Logic, San Francisco's post-punks Grass Widow haven't switched gears as much as oiled every nut and bolt of their mechanism. The band has always had a somewhat dreamy view of punk, with its signature three-part vocal arrangements adding introspection and depth to Raincoats-inspired primitive art-damaged song foundations. Early recordings were raw and rambunctious, and Past Time was a better-recorded album of unfortunately weaker songs.
San Francisco trio Grass Widow borrow from a number of proudly retro sounds: surf rock, post-punk, and minimalist indie pop. But the band's most distinct, and even quietly innovative, quality is its vocals: Guitarist Raven Mahon, bassist Hannah Lew, and drummer Lillian Maring all sing, their voices colliding in off-kilter, prismatic harmonies. This vocal approach gives their songs a diffuse, uncanny atmosphere: At times, their bouncy tunes sound like Raincoats songs that have become lost in a hall of mirrors.
It may be difficult or rare to be an all-woman band (more typically called in familiar sexist fashion, “all-girl,” or “all-chick”). But the sexual politics of rock n’ roll have typically generated much spurious and uninteresting commentary. Grass Widow enacts its own empowerment — if we can intellectualize a little — by playing with the expected “prettiness” of the female voice and matching it with a rhythmically unrelenting, jerking and piercing sound: luring in listeners with its beauty and then wrapping them up tightly in a straitjacket.
I have a swiss cheese of an argument regarding rehashing old song subject matter that I’d like to support with a couple of opposing quotes from Ravi Shankar and Joe Strummer: “[Ultimately], the wisdom that places materiality on top of a poetic hierarchy and abstraction at its bottom, the breed of thinking which doubtlessly has strengthened the verse of many poets, nonetheless has become a kind of dogma that stifles poetic expression and repels us from exploring a crucial escarpment upon the peaks of Mount Parnassus. ” –Ravi Shankar, In Praise of Abstraction: Moving Beyond Concrete Imagery “Maybe too many songs have been written about love already, subjects covered. ” –Joe Strummer, Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, 1981 I don’t think I wholly agree with Joe Strummer, but if the context were regarding modern garage/psych/pop groups inspired by garage/psych/pop from the 60s, I would say that the “love” subject has been very well covered.
Raven Mahon's unique style of guitar playing adds huge interest to Grass Widow's third album. Her chords have a punky straightforwardness (as does Lillian Maring's drumming and Hannah Lew's bass playing), but her busy, proggy lead lines often move in surprising atonal directions. This helps offset the sweetness of the vocals. All three members of the San Francisco DIY-embracing indie pop band sing, often in dreamy doubled layers, counterpoint and harmony.
Though Grass Widow -- comprised Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon, and Lillian Maring -- have left Kill Rock Stars for their own label, HTR, Internal Logic shows us that little variation has risen out of independence. In fact, perhaps what best defines Grass Widow and the band's sound is a stubbornness, a clear-eye vision for what the band is doing and a refusal to deviate too far from that formula. If that sounds dismissive, it's not meant to be.
San Francisco's all-femme post-punk trio returns with a third album, the first on their very own record label. The 11 upbeat, noisy tracks just fly by at under 30 minutes, but there are some notable highlights, in particular the spooky haunted house music of lead single "Goldilocks Zone." (www.grasswidow.org) .
Are you one of those people who felt The Raincoats should have given in to their pop tendencies? Honestly, how good was their cover of “Lola”? If you want to hear what that would sound like as a long-player, then welcome Grass Widow, a three-piece out of San Francisco’s blooming garage scene. Internal Logic, the band’s third outing, takes the angular bass lines, three-part female harmonies, and jangly guitars and blends them together to form a heaping pile of late 80’s/early 90’s nostalgia that could easily soundtrack your favorite Pete and Pete episode, a soundtrack that would no doubt make little Pete’s tattoo, Petunia, dance the night away. Grass Widow is a pop band at their core, and they are at their best when they allow this identity to bubble up to the forefront.
San Francisco trio Grass Widow’s third full-length album, Internal Logic, is the first release on the band’s own label, HLR. The “H,” “L” and “R” are taken from the initials of band members Hannah Lew, Lillian Maring and Raven Mahon, who formed Grass Widow in the late 2000s and were formerly on Kill Rock Stars. Taking a happy departure from their previous album, Past Time, the ladies of Grass Window set out to create a set of songs that “feel good to play,” as Lew stated in a recent CMJ interview.