Release Date: Jul 8, 2016
Record label: Hardly Art
The press preview of Hit Reset first rolled into my inbox over a week ago, and despite not having much else on musically, I put off listening to it. When I looked at all the shiny, neatly named mp3 files - 'I'm Done', 'Be Nice', 'Hello, Trust No One' - there all sprightly and nestled in the rectangular body of the 405 email, I felt mostly anxiety. I resented them being there, little digital capsules of uncertainty, ready to spring sound out at me.
Kathleen Hanna has a talent for hitting very specific nerves that sometimes make you laugh and sometimes make you cry but always give you that sense of your heart being filled, and your soul being lifted. Musically diverse – not just from band to band but from album to album – her deeply personal thus naturally political lyrics and visceral vocals are a thread that holds them together. Second album Hit Reset with her most recent band The Julie Ruin is just about as personal-political as it gets – exactly where Kathleen sits most comfortably.
No sooner had Kathleen Hanna made her comeback than she was gone, struck down once again by the Lyme disease that had kept her out of the public eye for a decade. It was an authoritative return—documentary The Punk Singer cemented her legacy while the Julie Ruin’s debut album, Run Fast, started a new chapter of her life, or at least what seemed then like a period of remission. But while the band’s new-wave romp didn't lack energy, some of Hanna’s lyrics were unusually tentative.
The Julie Ruin’s second album literally resets the career of the post-riot grrrl band and its frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, the movement’s reluctant spokeswoman, whose chronic illness forced the band off the road in 2014. With Lyme disease in abeyance, these 13 new songs fizz and rage with a mixture of girl-group sass (key track: Rather Not) and surf-garage buzz. No one could accuse Hanna of ducking issues (see Bikini Kill or Le Tigre, previous Hanna outfits), but Hit Reset is even more personal, with the title track recalling her father, and the closing piano ballad (yes, piano ballad) a love song to her mother.
Originally the solo project of full-time badass Kathleen Hanna, The Julie Ruin has grown from a 90s side-stage outlet to a full-blown band. Their ‘Run Fast’ debut was Hanna’s return to releasing new music after her struggles with lyme disease took her out of the game. It was a deliberately scrappy, purposefully lo-fi, and admittedly all-over-the-shop smoothie of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill and every part of Hanna’s formidable legacy.‘Hit Reset,’ meanwhile, sees The Julie Ruin taking a sharp-pointed pin, pushing the button and reverting to factory settings.
Originally created as an experimental 1998 lo-fi solo project between her tenures in Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, the Julie Ruin is the brainchild of singer, songwriter, and feminist punk icon Kathleen Hanna. After re-launching the venture as a band in 2010, Hanna and her co-conspirators delivered their brash group debut, Run Fast, in 2013. While it bore a resemblance to Julie Ruin's first incarnation, it also seemed to borrow from the snarling punk of Bikini Kill and the electroclash indie of Le Tigre.
Bikini Kill were the best punk band of the 1990s — catchy, playful, hostile, and righteous — and their motormouthed frontwoman Kathleen Hanna exited the decade as the patron saint of radical-feminist rock stars. But Hanna hasn’t released a great album since 1999, when her cheerful electroclash project Le Tigre turned out to have as evergreen a self-titled party-record debut in them as Madonna. (Le Tigre subbed restless, questioning politics for Madonna’s sunny escapism, but both records make you as happy, about as efficiently, as you’re going to get.
'I stand in the crowd with my hand in my coat at every single show / I just love girl bands... it’s a turn-on – you don’t need to know.' Hey, mister – have you heard? You’ve been rumbled. Just two years after Kathleen Hanna’s Lyme disease forced an unplanned hiatus, The Julie Ruin return in the rudest health. And while Mr So and So shows the gig perv no mercy, elsewhere Hanna’s bonehead-nailing, predudice-lancing manifesto reverberates, as ever, with humanity and truth.
In the ’90s, punk rock was a male-dominated scene, and as the singer of riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna inspired waves of female musicians. When she moved on from Bikini Kill, she put her strong-as-hell voice to use elsewhere, fronting the electro-punk group Le Tigre. She recorded and performed with the band for a few years, then, run down from tour, the scrutiny of the media, and late stage Lyme disease, she went underground to recover.
When feminist punk patron saint Kathleen Hanna launched her newest project, The Julie Ruin, in 2010 – after years spent out of the spotlight due to late stage lyme disease – expectations were high. Thankfully, the group's 2013 debut album Run Fast was triumphant, filled with the same searing energy and lo-fi DIY ethos that Hanna's Nineties band Bikini Kill used to inspire the riot grrrl movement. On her band's sophomore LP, Hit Reset, Hanna may have found a fertile middle ground between the intensity of Bikini Kill and the sassy electro-pop that made her subsequent band Le Tigre a cult favorite.
Considering the current political hellscape, you might expect returning riot grrrl torchbearer Kathleen Hanna to deploy her laser-like wail in the service of, say, searing Donald Trump’s quiff off. Instead, her second album with the Julie Ruin focuses on the politics of the personal – how she “hit reset” after an abusive childhood and an adult battle with Lyme disease – with the effusiveness of someone bursting out of an airless room. Its songs are like hand grenades dusted with icing sugar, disguising their subject matter with hand-claps, kazoo-like synths and the playful delivery of jump-rope taunts – often a bit too sweet, in fact.
This is good. And some of it is very good. The trouble being that, production-wise, these songs want more power than they're given. This is noticeable from the get-go, songs that seem to be, at their heart, joyous explosions of energy come across as restrained and thin. This is especially ….
Sini Anderson’s indispensable 2013 documentary The Punk Singer answered what was, to that point, the burning question about Kathleen Hanna - where had she gone? After Le Tigre disappeared suddenly in 2005, she spent years struggling with late-stage Lyme Disease that had gone catastrophically misdiagnosed, leaving her sporadically weak to the point of being bed-ridden. The rest of the film stood as testament to what Hanna’s illness had deprived the world of; a fiercely intelligent and genuinely fearless creative force. She’s been an arresting, and often caustic, writer since before she was a musician, when spoken word and riot grrrl zines were her outlets.
Hitting the reset button on your life is an appealing concept. How many times have you wanted to wipe out all the rubbish and start anew – refreshed, renewed and with a super-slick new operating system? Sadly, things aren’t that easy – life is not an iPhone.Despite the various differences between human existence and modern technology, punk icon Kathleen Hanna – formerly of riot grrrl trailblazers Bikini Kill and cult electro-nistas Le Tigre – is doing her darndest to spin her life around. She’s starting with taking to task those who’ve wronged her.
The Julie Ruin's "Hit Reset" features Kathleen Hanna stretching out musically and lyrically. The Julie Ruin's "Hit Reset" features Kathleen Hanna stretching out musically and lyrically. The Julie Ruin, the latest project from Riot Grrrl trailblazer Kathleen Hanna, merges many of her many past lives in music: a dash of Bikini Kill's proto-feminist garage-punk, a pinch of Le Tigre's dance-pop celebration, and a dose of the bedroom-project introspection that characterized the singer's first record under the Julie Ruin moniker in the '90s.
At the end of The Punk Singer, 2013’s excellent documentary about Kathleen Hanna, the former Bikini Kill frontwoman is shown struggling to cope with chronic illness yet emerging from an extended hiatus to find strength in assembling pop tunes with her new band, The Julie Ruin. Catharsis and recovery often generate compelling music, and they certainly did so on that group’s debut, Run Fast—a successful comeback that encouraged Hanna to keep at it. As that initial burst of ’90s nostalgia, media attention, and renewed interest fades (as it must), the fact remains that Hanna is seeking to reestablish herself in the indie scene.
Kathleen Hanna is fully back in the public eye thanks to 2013 biographical documentary The Punk Singer and two albums by the Julie Ruin in three years. Despite a quiet spell during the late aughts (largely due to an off-and-on battle with Lyme disease), the 47-year-old feminist activist and former Bikini Kill and Le Tigre singer hasn’t become any less fierce. Hit Reset, the Julie Ruin’s second album, is super-spunky.