Women, Public Strain

Women, Public Strain

Women plays abrasive, noisy no-wave with strangely catchy, low-key pop hooks. Crafting hooks isn’t something you’d normally associate with students of early Sonic Youth, but this Calgary quartet manages to do just that. The band’s sophomore album Public Strain covers a lot of territory, from no-wave sonic forms to long drones to regular distorted guitar riffing. (In case you’re wondering, the band Women contains no women. And this is no Lilith Fair women-empowerment record.)

“Can’t You See” sounds most like Sonic Youth sans Bob Bert — a sheet of creaking and soaring nontonal guitars that build up and build up and finally cohere into a brief verse, and then winds itself back down. “Heat Distraction” is their math-rock drone jam, with off-kilter, woozy guitar parts cycling around each other and a beautiful bridge right at the end. And “Eyesore” is their straight-up jam, a mostly normal album closer with straightforward guitars, sunny melodies, and even a normal guitar solo.

Their songs don’t generally follow regular pop song form. “Heat Distraction” starts with a long instrumental drone with odd-metered guitar and bass riffs, and about halfway through the song, they start a section with an odd, sing-songy chorus that they repeat, and then right before the end they play a bridge section with a beautiful melody, and then they end with a few of the beginning riffs. It’s not a normal song arrangement, but they make it work as well as one.

They’re strategic with the use of their most melodic material — they tease you along for a while, hit you with a great melody, and then very soon after, it disappears. And their harmonies aren’t always completely coherent, with the two parts mostly cohering but occasionally sounding like one of the singers forgot the melody. Also, the singers are brothers and have similar-enough-but-not-quite-sounding voices, which heightens the dreamy quality of the vocals.

Public Strain is a fascinating album. Below the layer of sneaky no-wave abrasion are sparkling pop hooks. It takes a little digging, but there’s a fascinating warmth that no-wavers are almost never interested in. They conceal the warmth of their songs — where most popsters would have a big hook in every song, Women don’t go for anything that easy. They tweak their melodies in different ways that give each song its own quality, something that’s still memorable. And once you’ve listened a few times, it really strikes you. Public Strain is a masterful effort.

Feature photo by Giulia Mazza.

(Jagjaguwar Recordings -- 1499 West 2nd Street, Bloomington, IN. 47403; http://www.jagjaguwar.com/; Women -- http://www.myspace.com/womenmusic)
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Review by . Review posted Thursday, January 6th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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