Women
Public Strain


5.0
classic

Review

by Adam Downer STAFF
December 16th, 2010 | 1103 replies


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist


Women occupy a unique place in the indie rock spectrum. Their songs and makeup can put them nowhere else– Public Strain would be a Deerhunter album if it weren’t for that sneer in its lip- and yet their music is completely singular. It’s alienating, but in the appealing way, like an existential hipster chick who acts like she’s cooler than you and makes you believe it in the form of an indie record.

Women have this addictive quality; there was a point with Public Strain some time ago when it became all I wanted to listen to and I haven’t looked back. I’ve never been particularly interested in “authenticity: the concept” when it comes to dissecting albums, but I can’t think of a better way to describe what Women achieve through crafting terrific shitgazing pop that purposefully avoids sheen. Public Strain has the feel of a garage record coupled with the songwriting of a smart indie record, though it struggles to avoid classification as the latter. Rather, Public Strain tears down its trappings from the inside, sending up the retro-grade 60s pop cliché via the snarky, punk dejectedness of brothers Matthew and Patrick Flegel, but it also builds those trappings anew, recasting the “fuzzy indie pop album” as a vehicle for more than imagined nostalgia. It carries a burdening but unarticulated weight, recalling the Sonic Youth aesthetic if Sonic Youth kept their lyrics obscured instead of obtuse. Instead, Public Strain posits that the words don’t need to be pieced together for the meaning to get across. They say nothing because there’s nothing to be said, only impressions to be communicated through hazily remembered melodies.

If I'm not making much sense, understand it’s only because I’ve been struggling to make sense of Public Strain since I first spun it. Public Strain’s perfectly lo-fi production delivers few entry points; this thing is held together by duct tape and elbow grease, its dissonant brand of guitar rock a symptom of its jaded, combative temperament. The subtly gorgeous ballad “Can’t You See” sets the tone of the record well, introducing the seclusion Public Strain wears and twists into bitterness or ironic sunniness to keep its real character hidden. Women are a band that shows so many sides but never a single, pigeonholing identity because I don't think they want one. The asymmetrical shifts between poolside jangle and post punk motor in “Heat Distraction” may appear incongruous but they're that way for a reason; underneath the squealing strings and feedback, there’s something lovably human about Public Strain, though not “human” as in “humanistic.” More, it’s isolated and alone, separate from its contemporaries when underneath its icy exterior, it’s just as warm.

And so their record challenges but also engages, a series of songs that are equally essential to constructing the meaning behind Public Strain. Women keep the tempos and aesthetic laid-back for Public Strain’s opening suite, so we don’t truly see the record’s vitriol until its dynamite second half. This is a record that begs to be heard on vinyl, as Public Strain’s two sides complement and communicate with each other; “Heat Distraction” foresees the anarchic aggressiveness of Side B whereas “Venice Lockjaw” fondly remembers the youthful balladry of “Penal Colony,” at least until “Eyesore” burns the whole fuckin’ thing down. What makes every song vital is the constant undercurrent of fragility, the precarious balance Public Strain strikes between abrasiveness and heart. “China Steps” is jagged and rough but also delicate, getting by on squeaking drum pedals and questionably tuned guitars. “Drag Open,” on the other hand, integrates both ends of the Public Strain binary. It’s a thrashing punk track that devolves in the wreckage of its aftermath, recognizing the hopelessness of its abrasiveness; it’s lost and it’s pissed, but it can’t make anything productive out of it, so it resigns.

It’s telling that Women would devolve into an onstage fistfight while touring for this record; Public Strain sounds like an album whose recording would fry the patience and relationships of its creators. It sort of has that canonical feel. The narrative of noisy indie rock bands hating their members, releasing a masterpiece, then blowing into smithereens is a familiar one, and Public Strain bears the weight of such a tension. That the wave of comparisons link Women to My Bloody Valentine and Unwound isn’t a coincidence. I’d even go so far as to say that “Eyesore” is to Public Strain what “Soon” is to Loveless; though they’re sonically different, “Eyesore” is similarly bright and startlingly celebratory, an “aha” moment that catches its listener for being lulled by the buzz of the preceding record. And like “Soon,” “Eyesore” ends with a hook can only be faded out since it is too good, too cyclical to stop.

I can’t pretend that the world will ultimately recognize “Eyesore” as a masterpiece as I do, but I can describe it in no lesser terms. The same goes for Public Strain. It is difficult for me to make any solid claims as to what this record is actually doing, but that’s because I don’t think it’s doing much of anything, really. And not in a bad way, either. Rather, it exists independently from the indie stratosphere where everything matters. There’s no mythology to investigate, no explicit lyrics to dissect, no dynamic frontman to be fascinated with. In the year of Kanye West, Sufjan Stevens, and Lady Gaga, the year where the artist is ultimately so much of the art, Public Strain exists without extra-textual discourse. All we have is the music, and that’s all we need.



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user ratings (237)
Chart.
4
excellent
other reviews of this album
teddycutler1 (3)
Public Strain is a burial in a heavy sonic snowdrift, a chamber of blanket dissonance, an off-kilter...

Sam Feldman's Rating (4.5)
...

zach (5)
I know I'm late but...

Eno (4.5)
Women go against the grain of 2010, leaving us with a record that is devoid of any warmth or soul. A...


Comments:Add a Comment 
SeaAnemone
December 16th 2010


20379 Comments


I feel so left out when it comes to this. Just feels so hollow and empty.

Fantastic review... and "on-stage fistfight"? lol

Digging: Holy Sons - Lost Decade II

Counterfeit
December 16th 2010


17819 Comments


thought it said pubic strain at first

plane
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


6094 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

This is a fantastic review that I agree with

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
December 16th 2010


7026 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

this doesn't even leave me scratching my head

Digging: Perfume Genius - Too Bright

Enotron
December 16th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

why yes hello!

conradtao
Emeritus
December 16th 2010


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"More, it’s isolated and alone, separate from its contemporaries when underneath its icy exterior, it’s just as warm."

This x1000. This, Kanye and Cosmogramma are probably the three most cogent and coherent records of the year for me.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


15044 Comments


"Their songs and makeup can put them nowhere else"

does "nowhere else" mean "except indie rock"? just wondering

also ew comparing this album to a hipster chick.

what does the phrase "retro-grade" mean? (i just ahve no idea hahaha)

"only impressions to be communicated through hazily remembered and distantly delivered melodies."
haha this is maybe "necessary" but what a lame cliche to put in a review of an album like this :P

" Public Strain’s perfectly lo-fi production delivers few entry points; this thing is held together
by duct tape and elbow grease, its dissonant brand of guitar rock a symptom of Public Strain’s
jaded, combative temperament."

im not entirely sure but it seems weird to go from proper noun->pronoun->proper noun in one
sentence.

"Opening with the subtly gorgeous ballad “Can’t You See” is a risky move by Women but it sets the
tone of the record well, introducing the album’s seclusion Public Strain wears and twists into
bitterness or ironic"

no need for "album's"

there are actually a few examples where you sort of utilize the actual album names and the pronoun
sort of weirdly.

great review, great album

on another note, i think it's time you revisit vu&nico.

robin
Emeritus
December 16th 2010


4249 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

penal colony is the best song ever.

also i read this. and you have my uneccessary approval.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


15044 Comments


also, conclusion nails it

Enotron
December 16th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

what's unfortunate about the fact that this is now bnm and has downer's 5 on it, is that there's gonna be really lame anti-hype and whatnot

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


15044 Comments


i dont think many will listen to this past the few already who innocently and understandingly went
"huh" and left

Enotron
December 16th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

also, "narrow with the hall" is perfect. could analyze every detail of that song.

SeaAnemone
December 16th 2010


20379 Comments


OK fine I'll listen to this a few more times alex robertson geez

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


15044 Comments


penal colony, heat distraction, and eyesore are all besties but i actually think "can't you see" might
be my favorite

Ponton
Emeritus
December 16th 2010


5793 Comments


I've been visiting this site for years, and it's been my pleasure to see you grow as a writer, Adam, much better than I could ever hope to be. Best review I've read on this site in a while.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


15740 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

okay, point by point alex

yes, meh, old school, well it's true, meh, fix'd, i suppose but im not too worried, thanks, and maybe

=D jared im blushin

Digging: Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

Athom
Staff Reviewer
December 16th 2010


17215 Comments


LOL 5. itt downer reviews a post-punk record

Digging: Inigo Kennedy - Vaudeville

Enotron
December 16th 2010


7695 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

stfu senor thomas

porch
December 16th 2010


8460 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

pretty good review i still need to hear this

AggravatedYeti
December 16th 2010


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thanks for this Adam.

All we have is the music, and that’s all we need.


: )



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