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U.S. Girls - Go Grey

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Artist: U.S. Girls

Album: Go Grey

Label: Siltbreeze

Review date: Mar. 11, 2010

In 2008, we got a pair of albums, simultaneously indelibly linked and aesthetically opposite, which have become the twin pillars of a veritable new wave in underground music, certainly a moment if not a movement. The albums are Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill and U.S. Girls’ Introducing… and the larger scene to which they point is that of the solo female post-noise performer. An unfortunately boring name which does no justice to the groundswell of talent that’s increasingly impossible to ignore, but I suppose it’ll have to do.

Two years ago, a pattern was discernible. There was a clear congruity between Valet’s druggy weirdness, Inca Ore’s lo-fi kosmische, Grouper’s stark hymns and U.S. Girls’ (a.k.a. Megan Remy) blown out pop, but the party was just getting started and it wasn’t clear how long it would last or where it might go. Thankfully, last year saw the rise of a few more top contenders (Zola Jesus seems to be making quite a dent in the public consciousness) as well as some ramped up activity from those founding mothers, and what was once a small corner of the scene suddenly revealed itself as a force. It seems there’s some new blood in the staid and often tiring world of experimental music, and it’s coming from the women.

The aforementioned albums by Grouper and U.S. Girls were of particular importance, both because of the force with which they each asserted themselves and for the vast field that separated them stylistically. Where Grouper was hushed and beautiful, U.S. Girls was assaulting and white hot. And yet each traded in a certain pop sensibility, obscured by either reverb or distortion, either so color-saturated or so muted as to be transformed. Between the two of them, a certain field was defined, certain possibilities laid out, and two major gauntlets thrown down. What was to come next?

I was particularly curious to check Remy’s next step. The first thing I had heard from her was a cover of "Days" by the Kinks, and it was a revelation. What was so exciting about that track (as well as Introducing…) was, and is, the way it runs pop simplicity through a violent prism, stretching the Kinks’ fey sorrow to a more bludgeoning breaking point. And yet the music never lost its depth. Hardly a macho revisionist history, it balanced the bleak vibes with some stoned lethargy, creating a space somewhere between classic gems, industrial hiss and weeded-out paranoia.

Remy’s new album, Go Grey, thankfully surprises, and in surprising ways. I had expected that her ear for melody might bump up against the constraints of lo-fi production and that she would clean up her palette a bit. Instead, the fucked heaviness is amped up and the pop dialed back. It’s a gutsy move, and likely to be more than a little divisive, but the rewards are myriad if you’re willing to take the trip. Go Grey kicks off with "Turnaround Time," a lurching, menacing beast that inverts a nursery rhyme melody into a supreme downer before switching abruptly to a raga-inflected drone-out. But there are no cosmic vibes to be found here -- go grey is exactly right, and Remy doesn’t let up.

A few tracks later we get "Sleeping on Glass," which, clocking in at just over six minutes, is the most expansive cut on the album by far. What starts as a caveman’s stomp through an opium den of silted melodies moves (via some suspended-in-mid-air noise) to a "European Son"-style neo-primitive dirge jam. But more than the VU, I’d say Remy picks up the mantle of the Stooges in her application of rock dynamics and instrumentation to a harsh, nihilistic black hole of a soundworld.

There’s a cool mixture of elements going on here: some first-wave musique concrete tape collage, some bad vibes rock, some blistering noise, and a touch of no wave. Fortunately, Remy doesn’t entirely abandon the pop that defined her earlier work. "Blue Eyes on the Blvd.," my favorite track on the record, opens up some much-needed space toward the end of the album and is an excellent showcase for her trademark holler. Two chords outline the beat while she methodically unpacks a simple melody on top. Except that it’s not on top, it’s underneath, and she sounds like she’s drowning in the music, sucked under by the sludgy guitar.

That level of obliqueness, that obfuscation of clarity and avoidance of easy answers, is what makes Go Grey as strong as it is. It’s not a crossover record, it doesn’t aim to please, and doesn’t make concessions. Instead, you get something more distilled, more pure. It’s heartening to see Remy make good on the promise of her earlier work and to dig deeper into the most personal aspects of her music. Whatever 2010 brings for the diaspora that spawned her, I’m confident she will remain a guiding light. Even if that light is grey.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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