Review Summary: Let's hear it for the grrrl..
If any genre was in a bad need of a revivalist kick up the bracket in recent years, it’s Riot Grrrl. After a fiery entry at the end of the 80’s, led by the radiantly irreverent Bikini Kill, the movement all but fizzled out in a little under a decade, leaving only Sleater-Kinney to boldly soldier on against the endless stream of nu-metal’s dejected fits of machismo, and the similarly cock-shaped leanings of post-punk’s second coming.
After spending close to fifteen years in a piddling comatose state, the scene finally seems to be resuscitating itself. Glittoris, The Coathangers, Priests and a slew of other newcomers are leading the fervid charge, alongside old pros like Kathleen Hannah’s Julie Ruin and aforementioned Sleater-Kinney, whose 2014 reunion album “No Cities to Love” kicked far more ass than fellow 90’s guitar heroes Foo Fighters or Weezer mustered that year.
If Priests, who’ve put out a stellar full-length debut this year, walk the picket line of thrashing against government policy, Atlanta’s The Coathangers weave a closer path to what Riot Grrrl’s politics originally focused on; vague socialist catechisms and love-tinted songs filtered through the foibles of the gender divide.
Their previous effort, 2014’s “Suck My Shirt,” was a constricted show of pyrotechnics, with songs so hooky and danceable that a frat boy might catch himself swaying to them before realizing that he’s the one they’re putting the crosshairs on. And that is perhaps the sharpest feather in The Coathangers’ cap. They effectively chide alpha male chauvinism without themselves collapsing into misandry and needless vitriol. Before it can affect social consciousness in any palatable way, music first needs to be tangibly aesthetic.
And as far as musical aesthetic sets go, The Coathangers don’t find themselves lacking. “Nosebleed Weekend” continues their streak of short punchy songs pulsing with shuddery guitars that carry just the slightest twinge of atmospheric distortion to make the whole thing sound like a hazy stark dream.
Stephanie Luke’s ragged rasp, that made “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” a scrappy steamrolling marvel, is back in full swing. When she comes in on the chorus of “I Don’t Think So,” the juxtaposition between her gravelly screams and Julia Kugel’s lilt turn the song so giddily urgent, that you can hardly wait for it come around again after the second verse. Her jarringly rough lead turn on “Down Down” salvages the song that otherwise follows a fairly prosaic hard rock pattern.
That is the pit the band occasionally fall into on “Nosebleed Weekend,” something they’d successfully evaded on past records. Their music has always played well within a relatively minimalist frame, and if guitars are at the forefront of the songs, they never become overindulgent or masturbatory. This can create an issue with repetitiveness and staleness, and opener “Perfume” and “Make it Right” fall unfortunate victim. On these songs, the band sound plodding, and what is more alarming, tired and bored. If these moments are few and far between, they do prevent “Nosebleed Weekend” from having that uninterrupted mid-album stretch of frenzied goodness that “Suck My Shirt” and “Larceny & Old Lace” had in droves.
When the band does hit it on the head, it’s enough to make your knees knock. “Burn Me” is a firecracker of a song, a quick torrid spurt of everything that makes for stirring punk; a nervy relentless backbeat and guitars lurching around vocals that sit square on the edge of the right side of shrill. The song moves like a lightweight boxer, all ruffian sinew, dizzying with speed and hard on the punch.
Lead single “Excuse Me"” is another high point, riding a deeply-infectious gloomy guitar line, before catching fire on the hook, and “Squeeki Tiki” is a straight-up post-punk masterpiece, marrying frantic no-wave picking with chant-along shrieks. The song comfortably rubs shoulders with Rosa Yemen’s “Herpes Simpex,” and X-Ray Spex’ “I am a Poseur,” without losing its own untellable id.
With the lurking scorch of “I Wait” off “Suck My Shirt,” the band have already hinted at their ability to pen softer songs that can still summon plenty of brio, and they don’t disappoint here either. “Copycat,” the album’s closer mashes all sorts of punk probity into a seductive four-minute purr. The song is promisingly telling of how far The Coathangers can go if they stick it out, their explosive Riot Grrrl proclivities easing some way into Delta 5 and Pylon-like balminess. That’s a hell of a lot of strong points for one band to hold without eventually making something truly brilliant. Here’s to hoping that moment comes before the movement kamikazes again.