Check out U.S. Girls on episode 44 of the AudioHammock Podcast!
4AD has always been host to an excellent roster of artists. From former artists like Cocteau Twins, Stereolab, and Pixies, to their current repertoire that includes Deerhunter, Ariel Pink, and Bon Iver, the records their label puts out rarely disappoint. And now U.S. Girls, the brainchild of singer/songwriter Meg Remy, is the next artist to join the elite ranks. And if Half Free is any indication, she is here to stay.
From the very first track, Meg begins to paint a portrait for her music. “Sororal Feelings” starts with a looping, glitchy drum sample before her powerful voice penetrates through. While her strange inflection and heavy north-eastern accent can take a bit of getting used to, she has a strong dynamic range and it never sounds like she is overreaching the bounds of her voice. The vocal style is not the only interesting thing about what she is saying, however. The lyrics paint an incredibly dark picture of a man who has gone through all of the narrator’s siblings before marrying her, and her bitter resentment brings her to depression and suicide. It’s certainly an original topic and while it would be easy to make the lyrics melodramatic and overly emotional, they are delivered with a hint of sarcasm and light-heartedness which help to lighten the mood. The second track “Damn That Valley” has a sinister hook and a beat that could easily have been lifted from a dub instrumental. A glitchy, effect heavy vocal manipulation breakdown halfway through the song keeps it sounding interesting and fresh the whole time.
And now we’re at one of the strangest interludes you’ll hear all year, “Telephone Play No. 1.” The title is self-descriptive and the song is a telephone conversation between two women and without spoiling too much, there is discussion of bad dreams, incest, fascism, and feminism, all in less than a minute and a half. It certainly makes for an unsettling listen, but luckily things are relieved by the next few songs, “Window Shades,” a catchy pop track that was one of the album’s lead singles, and my personal highlight, “New Age Thriller.” A disconcerting synth line and spring reverbed guitar back Meg’s voice as it belts out somber lyrics. It’s almost like Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” if it wasn’t so cheesy.
Next is “Sed Knife” that presents an interesting juxtaposition with lyrics about a sedentary lifestyle but an instrumental that is the loudest and liveliest on the whole album. “Red Comes In Many Shades” and “Navy Cream” have similar, slow-moving sounds with the former being another foreboding ballad and the latter being a slow, glitzy, disco track. The album comes to a close with “Woman’s Work,” a sprawling, 7-minute electro pop anthem who’s closest comparison would probably be something off of The Knife’s Silent Shout. The mantra repeats as arpeggiated synthesizers and pounding drum machines fill in the low end, “A woman’s work is never done, a woman’s work is never done...”
All in all, Half Free is a great piece of work that will hopefully bring U.S. Girls some much-deserved recognition (come on, she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page). The only minor complaints I have, such as “Woman’s Work” being slightly too drawn out and repetitive and “Sed Knife” being in an odd place tracklisting wise are mostly eclipsed by the inventive and unique songwriting, the great production, and the powerfully unsettling vibe that hangs over the album like a cloud.