Release Date: Sep 28, 2010
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Noise-Rock
Women occupy a unique place in the indie rock spectrum. Their songs and makeup can put them nowhere else– Public Strain would be a Deerhunter album if it weren’t for that sneer in its lip- and yet their music is completely singular. It’s alienating, but in the appealing way, like an existential hipster chick who acts like she’s cooler than you and makes you believe it in the form of an indie record.Women have this addictive quality; there was a point with Public Strain some time ago when it became all I wanted to listen to and I haven’t looked back.
I’ve owned Women’s second album for a couple of months now, and while I’ve listen to Public Strain all the way through on a more than purely professional number of occasions, I’m going to have to be honest and say that closing song ‘Eyesore’ has completely distracted me. Good old last.fm suggests that I’ve listened to it via electronic means a solid 29 times, a figure I know to be a gross understatement (but why won’t it scrobble, eh?). It’s a song that has so mercilessly, ungratefully, dare I say cuntishly colonised my day-to-day thoughts that it’s pretty comprehensively thrown off my entire perception of this record.
The hype building up to it was relatively small, so Women's dynamic first record came out of nowhere. Not since TV on the Radio's Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes had a debut been as nervously energetic and singular as Women was. For an ever-shifting half-hour, that album refused to pick a sound, and the band itself proved capable of handling buzzing rock, angular pop, and drifting sound experiments with shaky but sure hands.
Public Strain is Women’s second record after a wonderfully confusing debut…and it provides no answers to our persistent questions: Is this pop or noise, ambient or rock? Most importantly, are Women exorcists or ghosts? What we do know: The quartet wrangles feedback, dissonant strings and Krautrock thump into surprisingly manageable songs, finding the types of hooks that both stick in your ear and leave claw marks. “Drag Open” is a jagged 2003-N.Y.C. kiss-off; sweetly cooing “Penal Colony” recalls The Shins.
Women’s 2008 self-titled debut is one of my favorite records. As with many loves, however, it’s difficult to tell you why, exactly. When I first laid ears on it, I thought it was the prettiest ugly thing, interlocking detuned guitar riffs and swaths of wide-lens noise and all. The music was as warm through all its tearing and wrinkling as I imaged the band’s Canadian home was chilly.
While adhering to their indie rock lo-fi grit, Women broadened its horizons for its follow-up. Two years in the making, Public Strain is more drastic than the debut in that the darker parts are more abrasive, the releases of tension are more pleasing, and the shimmering, steel-plate melodies are more evocative. There’s a huge sense of depth to the album, especially for one locked in a genre that tends to be minimal.
On their self-titled debut, Women kept their howls and hooks separate. The Calgary-based post-punk quartet dished out gritty drones and pristine pop with equal aplomb, but the album's highlights-- the spiky and dissonant "Shaking Hand" or the melancholy psych-pop nugget "Black Rice"-- stuck to one camp or the other. Two years later, Women have bridged the divide.
Like their first, Women's second album throws a number of challenges at the listener. Will you tolerate the brash guitars and deadpan vocals for 45 minutes? Will the ocean of reverb soaking everything leave you feeling untethered and disconnected? Will the spikes of cacophonic experimentation grate or gratify? [rssbreak] Smartly, the Calgary post-rock foursome keep their tunes succinct and forward-moving, while that ocean of reverb smoothes out some of the harsher angles. Recorded by Cowtown hero Chad VanGaalen, Public Strain is front-loaded with some of the more patience-testing tunes, but stick with it to discover some astonishing beauties.
The sad thing about music is, despite the immortal spirit of innovation and the plethora of electronic hardware available nowadays, for all intents and purposes, it’s all been done before. Thankfully, that’s usually OK; those circumstances give musicians a way to reinvent the wheel and still provide listeners with a context to understand the music. Sometimes, though, no matter how an artist tries to reach that balance, the end result is nothing but a dose of sonic disappointment.
It might take time to grasp, but this is one of 2010’s finest LPs. Rob Webb 2010 Artful Canadian quartet Women’s self-titled 2008 debut showed much promise, but for many ears was probably a little too heavy-handed in its marriage of melody and abrasion. It bristled with nervous energy; a touch overzealous in its use of noise, distortion and fuzz, and often shy of delivering a chorus.
As much as music appears to be changing, there are many aspects that remain the same. Fundamentally sound music is still, at the core, a foundation that needs to be set and, ultimately, musicianship is the key to that essential element of success. For Canadian band Women, that musicianship was on full display with the nervy, noisy art rock of Women (2008, Flemish Eye).