Review Summary: Women go against the grain of 2010, leaving us with a record that is devoid of any warmth or soul. And that's all the better for them.
Seeing a band taking their sound and moving forward with it is always refreshing. The sound of musicians taking risks and mixing up their palette of ideas has a rewarding factor that sails over the opportunity cost of releasing the same sound in varied formats. Women's debut record was a gorgeous take on lo-fi, a more technically minded approach to murky indie pop. The guitar tones weren't fuzzy and huge, but rather dry and cacophonous. They had a unique way of sounding orchestral and minimal simultaneously. On Public Strain
they have refined all of these elements and decontextualized them to create something darker; Women's magnum opus. Their lo-fi sound is no longer akin to No Age, but rather a grimier, Velvet Underground-esque sound. The songs deviate from their usual stripped down, 60s pop tunes and focus more around Sonic Youth atonalities. The vocals no longer charm, but rather recall the dry tones of Justin Trosper. That's not to say this new LP is, in essence, a refinement of influence. Public Strain
shines with character, finding small moments such as the juxtaposition of feedback bursts and layered vocals in "Narrow with the Hall" to exemplify this quality. No matter just how reverberated and lost in drone each track gets, the actual songwriting manages to retain an emboldened flare, an exercise in ethereality.
If the huge opening drones of "Can't You See" signify anything, it's that Public Strain
is a different, more alienated affair, in direct contrast to the jangle pop opener of their self-titled. It flows into the first rocker of the album "Heat Distraction", whose disjointed and off-putting riffage leads way to have vocalist Patrick Flegel moan cryptically over. Inaccessible to say the least, the first half of the record toys with the balancing of melody and dissonance. "China Steps" stands right on this line, the first two and a half minutes focused around nerving clashes of guitars, only to be resolved by gentle keyboarding and reassuring repetition. Women also rely on varying outlets to release their disturbed musical tales, switching up from choirs of treated guitars that would make Thurston Moore proud, to the gentle echos of tracks such as "Penal Colony". The aforementioned track in particular epitomizes the beauty of Flegel's voice, being able to pick up gentle lines such as "talking to you" in the otherwise indecipherable tone of his vocals. His vocals don't rely on any sort of particular lyrics, but the tone and phrasing in which he delivers them. Public Strain
's last three offerings are all more pop-oriented, a sort of conclusion to the dark tones of the record. However it's the fact that Flegel's obscured crooning and Krautrock jamming keep a pop track like "Eyesore" from ending on a proper, Phil Spector-pop closer, is what makes this LP not a record of potential songs of the year, but a very big candidate for record of the year. A production to be reveled in, Public Strain
is a leap forward for Women and another lovely surprise in the music releases of 2010.