, September 1st, 2010 11:15
I like Women, but they don't like me. Not, as some of you must no doubt be thinking, the tragic subtext to my career in music journalism to date, but an assertion about the indie four-piece from Calgary whose second album, Public Strain, seems possessed of an even more prickly intelligence than their first.
I mean, they can't like me – this is a record that seems to have been sequenced in reverse for the sheer blazing fuck of it, beginning with the curdled Velvets slither-and-scrape of 'Can't You See' and ending with the melodic brio of first single (!) 'Eyesore', which sounds like Glenn Branca gone Motown.
Public Strain is also at times so choked with mid-range tones and textures you'd be hard-pressed not to conclude it was mixed either by a moron or a misanthrope. In fact neither scenario is true, but I listen to the queasy funk of 'Untogether' and 'Narrow With The Hall', and I know this is the sound of a band that doesn't care one fig for my approval.
They've surely got it, though. Because Public Strain better harnesses the tension in Women's work between inertia and dynamism, murk and melody. With their debut there was a thrill in hearing such wanton ugliness from kids who'd already shown themselves capable of conventional beauty with the stoned-Beach Boys shuffle of 'Black Rice'. Here they're closer to having it both ways.
'Penal Colony''s does a kind of drone torch balladry, while the needles-in-the-red no-wave of 'Drag Open' proceeds with locomotive force and sounds like No Age, albeit rendered by the kinds of people who frequently walk into rooms with no idea of why they came to be there. Pleasingly the track morphs into a spare, broken-parts jam which sounds like strange flowers pushing through sub-Arctic topsoil. Likewise 'Locust Valley', whose descending guitar peals resemble Radiohead's 'Knives Out' in (very) rough draft.
'Heat Distraction' effectively mixes surf 'n' skronk in ways that'll be familiar to fans of the first record, but it's 'China Steps' which is Public Strain's centrepiece and most chilling moment. From Portishead to The Horrors, everyone's been bobbing for Silver Apples of late but here the New York duo's machine-psych is reimagined as full-blown psychosis, guitars twisting in knotted anguish 'round Matt Flegel's flatlining bass.
Contrary little fucks they may be, but Women are one of the flat-out finest guitar bands around right now, and Public Strain is the shrugging, malevolent proof.