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 shit
gazing 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 fuc
kin’ 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.