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Grass Widow - Internal Logic

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Artist: Grass Widow

Album: Internal Logic

Label: HLR

Review date: May. 29, 2012


Grass Widow - "Disappearing Industries" (Internal Logic)


An interviewer recently asked Grass Widow bassist Hannah Lew what advice she would offer to “a young all-girl band just starting out.” Lew pithily replied: “Play with people you love.” Something about the deliberate, even balancing of the band’s disparate elements — each of the three voices equally important, the bass and guitar similarly understated yet complex, the drums deft and present — imbues listeners with the impression of a thoroughly successful collaborative bond. Each element’s clarity and presence in their recordings further heightens the conversational aspect of the band’s work.

That Grass Widow self-released their third record, Internal Logic, on their own HLR imprint, points to a near-political dimension of this kind of joint effort. Their last record, Past Time, came out on Kill Rock Stars; they have had good press, toured sold-out venues with the Raincoats, and very likely could have “matured” to a big-name label or an expensive producer. Instead, their last 7”, a split with Nature, came out on DIY label M’Ladys, with jackets the two bands handmade together. And in a similar coup Internal Logic sounds very similar to Past Time — a move that can almost be seen as a resistance to the progression the hype machine sometimes seem to demand. They sound as much like themselves, and themselves only, as they always have.

There’s a little more of a major-key brightness here than on Past Time, which had an anxious undercurrent, both sonically and lyrically. Lew and guitarist Raven Mahon’s single-note riffs undergirded almost the entirety of that record, which gave it an overall feeling of unease; they played off each other and pushed against each other. Though the recording and their arrangements left no shortage of empty space, they seemed unwilling ever to stop playing, to rest on a note or a chord. In tandem with the lyrics’ darkness ("don’t let me down/let me fall") this energy imbued the record with a kind of desperation. Contrast that with “Whistling in the Dark” here, where Mahon’s guitar part turns into a series of strummed chords that build with a shuddering delay, like taking a slow, deep breath.

Mostly, though, the record shows off Grass Widow’s continued ability to hone their own style. Slow jam “Under the Atmosphere” has some of the prettiest, most straightforward harmonies of their catalog — but delivers itself from unmitigated loveliness with off-kilter drum fills. “Disappearing Industries,” one of the record’s standouts and probably one of the best songs of this year, perfectly exemplifies their skill. The song’s different parts and rhythms would be hard to diagram, and it would be a challenge for even a diehard fan to sing along to lines like "But where in the new divide won’t the remnants breathe uneasily?" Somehow, its catchiness and complexity manifest in equal measures: at no point does the the song’s composition undercut its pop sensibility.

Grass Widow’s lyrics tend toward the cryptic, but betray a kind of fixation on space and time: motifs of intergalactic and time travel wend their way throughout these songs. They write about these possibilities with a poetic wonderment, but also hints of humor. Opener “Goldilocks Zone,” which takes its name from the astronomical term for the conditions that could produce earth-like life on other planets, starts with tones that sound like FX from a campy sci-fi movie, and “Spock on MUNI” seems inspired by a notorious scene from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Again, more than the inward-looking lyrics that characterized Past Time, the theme here seems to be moving outward into some kind of unknown.

Interviews with Grass Widow seem almost exclusively to be about their resistance to identifying as a female band, and their desire to find recognition just as a band, as artists. More instructive, I think, is to see them as a consummate DIY band. Their sound, their songwriting practice, and their chosen method of distribution betray a deep commitment to the collaborative spirit that animates the best punk records. On a recent tour, Grass Widow brought copies of their friends and fellow San Franciscans Rank/Xerox’s tape because, at the time, it was their favorite record, and they wanted to share it. In “Disappearing Industries,” when they sing "it’s not mine/in another time," I can’t help but think about how embedded they seem in this particular time, place and community, and how in some quiet way they seem often to be making music about what it’s like (and how hard it is) to find a space for oneself — and how playing with people you love, in small part, plays into that process.

By Talya Cooper

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