I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
…Unless I decide to skip around the alphabet. In fact, I believe I’ll skip around for all of March…
Women. Gosh, what a boring name. You can’t get a sense of anything about the band by simple association. You don’t know who they are, where they come from. You can’t google it – especially at work, or any other public place. Not in the images field, anyway. But Women, the self-titled first album from the Canadian indie rockers (for lack of a better descriptor at the moment), is anything but boring.
And the thing of it is, it’s easy to pick out the starting points from which Women draw their inspiration, but where they go from the beginning is exciting and impossible to anticipate. Sure, it’ll be easy to say “Women is an … errrrugggh … experimental … bluuuh … pop band … pffffft” (unless you try to do that – not so easy), but that sells them way short. Not only do they take the mundane guitar-rock-quartet format and knock its palatability out of the park, but they also dig into it, as well as the recording of it, with an enthusiasm for discovery, mining the elements at their disposal to create a wholly unique record.
There’s a reason those RIYLs are at the bottom of this column, and it feels weird to see Liars there, as Women sound very little like them, but bear with me. The Kinks comparison is apt – we are beginning with a jangly rock blueprint after all, and you can choose much worse starting points than the discography of Ray and Dave Davies. But it’s not so simple for Women – never is, really. Beginning the record with “Cameras” – in which a tautly strummed guitar and sweetly harmonized vocal gets right to the heart of the band’s M.O. – pins the Kinks love right to the sleeve of the fitted blazers/sweaters/flannels. But mere seconds in, the rest of the instruments bash through blown-out monitors, the band staking their claim as kings of the white-out garage revivalists. Women fits in perfectly with the late-2000s no-fi sound, as it was surrounded with like-minded releases from Times New Viking, Sic Alps, and Nodzzz. However, Women – the band, not the album (italics are not enough when you’ve got a self-titled album sometimes…) – have more hooks and a greater vision than their peers.
First of all, “Cameras” and “Group Transport Hall,” two of the best songs on the album (the latter a stripped-down guitar-and-vocal exercise), barely reach 60 seconds in length. This brevity speaks to Women’s editing skills, but the songs are so strong I can only dream of a world where they reach 2 minutes. But, fun as these songs are, the experimental side of the band is what keeps me coming back to the album, as there’s more and more to discover even after repeated listens. And here’s where the Liars comparisons are apt – minus the singular sound of Angus Andrew, of course. But imagine the Davies brothers hitting the studio with Julian Gross and Aaron Hemphill, and you’re on the right track, the noise incorporation and sonic manipulation coupled with rhythmic gymnastics lend the album an air of mystery that mere Kinks worship would lack. “Lawncare” keeps the sweet vocals, a sugary strength to offset the weirdness. It veers, though, from standard rock into a time-signature nightmare over its length, with double-tracked drums offsetting a clipped, snaky guitar lead that breaks out of the 4/4 standard to knock the second half of the song off its equilibrium. It’s a fantastic trick.
“Woodbine” is an ambient noise track, another Liars-esque move, especially when plopping it at the front of the album at track 3. “January 8th” sees the Women boys (awesome) getting seasick with atonal guitar bends, its funereal pace quickening as it progresses to a no wave freakout. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record, as its unpleasantness becomes its greatest strength with repetition – kind of like horror-soundtrack incidental music. (Hey, that sounds like Liars too…) And then there’s “Black Rice.” “Black Rice” is everybody’s favorite song on the album. (And yes, you are everybody, and it’s your favorite too.) It’s 3:14 of whatever the best song on Nuggets is, better than the best song on Nuggets in fact, pure pop genius as martial guitars and drums meet xylo plunks and perfect vocal melodies, and a chorus to kill for. How good is it? Bob Pollard would be the one killing for that chorus. You heard me.
I can’t even properly describe “Black Rice.” It’s wound up on some best-songs-of-the-2000s lists, and rightfully so. And it’s sandwiched in the middle of the album between “Woodbine” and instrumental “Sag Harbor Bridge,” further accentuating its genius. And the whole of Women’s debut, while clocking in at just over 30 minutes, is an exercise in fundamental rock and roll stripped of its pretense, and infused with experimental flourishes that only serve to call attention to the quality and concision. (Fun fact: Sub Pop wunderkind and fellow Canadian Chad VanGaalen manned the boards here.) It’s sad to think, now that Women have announced their dissolution amid their tour for sophomore release Public Strain, that we probably won’t get much more, if anything, out of this singular band. I just hope its members continue to make music, even though the parts can’t possibly equal the sum.
RIYL: The Kinks, Liars, Sic Alps