Calgary quartet Women pretty much sound tracked my first term of university, after I found ‘Black Rice’ on an Artrocker compilation and spun it to death. The woozy mix of classic pop writing and spiky lo-fi ambience was enough to set this fresher’s heart ablaze with all kinds of whimsical notions.
Fast-forward two years and, now staring down the gleaming black barrel of a dissertation I revisit the band with their second long player, “Public Strain”. It would be unfair to say that the last album was a mixture of odd sound collages surrounding ‘Black Rice’s’ brilliance, but anyone looking for a two-minute gem on the new album will have to work harder for their reward. However – when you do, it’s totally worth it.
On most tracks there’s a brooding menace, created by dissonant staccato slashes of the guitar. This sets them apart form their sunshine’n'flowers so-cal contemporaries – for the better. The album is interspersed with glorious droning ambiance, especially on the track “Bells”, over three minutes of having your head wrapped in silky cotton wool. The underlying tape hiss creates a warm, authentic and lulling soundscape.
Underneath the often jarring dissonant stabs and atonal layers of strings – think Sister-era Sonic Youth – there lies classic pop writing in the style of Spector’s 60s gems.
But maybe Phil Spector is the wrong comparison. After all, it really is cheating to name check him in reference to any band that uses lashing of echo in its sonic arsenal. No, what I think of more when I listen to this album is the giddy slapback of Billy Fury – king of the fairground – and his influence on Morrissey and, by default, the Smiths
The album kicks in with “Can’t You See”. Not so much a hint at what is to come, more of an itemised list of every sonic weapon about to be thrown at your head. Strings clash in the background which modulators wrap their selves around a plodding bassline. This morphs into the stompy 5/4 rhythm clash of “Heat Distraction”, with paranoid vocals softening the trebly guitar.
Elsewhere, “China Steps” wouldn’t be out of place on Gang of four’s “Entertainment” – had they been in New York and shooting up dodgy smack at the time. In fact, that would be a good layman’s description of this album, “If Andy Gill, Faust and Thurston Moore got drunk one night… It wouldn’t be half as good as this, yet sound similar.”
“Drag Open” is straight out of No New York. Guitars played so destructively they chime with pain, and a thumping motorik rhythm section. “Venice Lockjaw” is the best song Brian Wilson never wrote, full of yearning, metaphor heavy lyrics and a bleeding heart.
“Eyesore” perks up a bit to close the album, which (and this is pretty much the only criticism I have of the entire album) feels like an anti-climax. After “Venice Lockjaw” you are locked into somnambulism, head fuzzy, cockles toasty, id soothed.
All in all “Public Strain is a collection of gorgeous songs, and I’d bet my soul that in time it will be remembered with the same reverence as any classic art-rock record you care to mention.
Women – “Eyesore”
Flemish Eye, Jagjagwar, Public Strain, Women