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U.S Girls
Half Free Brendan Telford , October 12th, 2015 14:52

Meghan Remy has led a strongly intriguing musical trajectory under her U.S. Girls moniker. Her early forays into looped fuzzed-out noise were an avant-garde expulsion, a performance of catharsis, but decidedly, deliberately skirting genre classification. Remy's voice has grown stronger, her preoccupations with the darker realms of the human condition coming closer to the abyss, and her embrace of more identifiable genre signifiers while restlessly toying with those same conventions has made her both more accessible and inimitably bolder in vision and scope.

The opening track sets the lyrical tone of Half Free. An echo-laden track that sonically sits somewhere between Nancy Sinatra and Beth Gibbons, the warm scratch and hum of needle on vinyl introduces 'Sororal Feelings'. It's a trip-hop amble through sepia tones of bitter nostalgia, domestic neglect, wrack and ruin, all delivered with a sonorous vocal lilt that is both beguilingly defiant yet resigned, sharing the knowledge of a shattered marriage and a life's abrupt yet predestined end – it's the broken protagonist's three sisters who have cuckolded her.

'Damn That Valley' contains equally heavy content, an ode to a grieving widow's soldier husband, but again is thrown off-kilter by the sonic histrionics being twirled in our faces – a raga jaunt, jangling chains, childlike echoed chorus, fractured effects, a percolating beat that is far more upbeat. This jagged R&B underscores the futility, banality and unstoppable nature of war – no matter how much we rail and mourn, history continues to repeat, and wipe lives off the map in the process.

'Window Shades' again delves into the realms of the cheated lover, this time on a Vaseline-and-dry-ice disco burble, slinking in a disco pastiche like early Madonna, the shaking maracas undercutting the sad, horrible desperation. 'New Age Thriller' plays like a misty Giallo theme song, Remy singing over hurried shuffled beats and plaintive Jerry Goldsmith-esque piano plinks, a raw guitar vibrating out of the proto-noir gloom, as gritty and cool as embryonic Raveonettes fare.

'Sed Knife' is a raucous rocker, a garage growl with slight Boss-undertones, it's a cathartic caterwaul that is unlike all before or after it – a welcome respite from the lyrical onslaught, a necessary aural palate cleanser to ensure the listener isn't lost (but still speaks of the "sedentary knife" that both physically and figuratively cuts a couple's relationship in two). 'Red Comes In Many Shades' is a haunting elegy, a seductive, devouring affair that leaves a woman in emotional devastation; 'Navy & Cream' is a vapour-wave drawl with added visceral guitar squall, pierced by Remy's beautiful vocals, espousing "I go to pieces" over and over.

In many ways Half Free hinges on its non-song track, the misleadingly titled 'Telephone Play No. 1' (there is no second act here). It is a recording of a phone conversation between Remy and her friend, where she details a dream where her father emails a digital folder of nude pictures of herself when she was a child. Such an idea is in itself insidiously creepy – the subconscious delving into all kinds of warped and murky familial relationships – which is only exacerbated by Remy's confusion at finding the photos aesthetically pleasing. It's an unsettling piece in the multi-tiered look at family relationships and the way they are never easily defined; but made more so by the sardonic punchline. When her friend states that at least they aren't anyone's son, Remy replies, "Instead of just another woman with no self-esteem". It would be a Greta Gerwig self-effacing putdown, if it weren't for the Requiem For A Dream canned laughter that outros the line. With Half Free, Remy has made a brilliant, accessible, edgy pop record without compromising her ideals one iota – and hopefully has surreptitiously brought her into a wider light.