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U.S. Girls - GEM

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Artist: U.S. Girls

Album: GEM

Label: FatCat

Review date: Oct. 23, 2012

Megan Remy was just a gal and her voice in the basement, dreaming of big things. She’s not that anymore. After signing with FatCat Records and bringing on board the production influences of Toronto songwriter Slim Twig, Remy is now the gal with the voice in the studio makin’ it the way she wants. By filtering her Ronnie Spector voice through a radio blast of deconstructed electronic noise garbles, she’s become the poster girl for pre-’80s pop, a defense that cries, as on GEM’s “Curves,” rock ‘n’ roll is an art form. GEM is art the way she wants it, a less emulsified release than her previous offerings, and a sound that speaks more clearly from its soul and pop roots.

The lo-fi histories U.S. Girls had the seed and the dream of GEM present, but Remy, a self-taught musician, lived with a gap between what she wanted to produce and the pared down minimalism she was circumstantially forced into. On GEM, a more band-oriented album, she has the support needed to produce the work that travels a little closer to the sound she’s after: pure pop deconstruction, a re-birthing of sorts for the semi-forced sounds of the girl bands of the 1960s and ’70s. GEM isn’t just a fresh take on an old sound; it’s an audit of the constraint placed on female artists in the past and a table-turning journey into what might have been possible if musical freedom meant more than obedience to parents, husbands and record producers. This ethic comes through songs like “Working from home” — the punch line is, as a prostitute, you get to work from home and you never have to leave your bed — and “Jack,” where the famed ripper becomes female.

The politics on GEM lend a Patti Smith-depth to a pop sound that often turns eerily dark. At times, its almost like The Shirelles meet P.J Harvey, with discordant piano electronics and elements of a drudging drone — Remy’s heavy southern drawl on “Rosemary” make it one of the most accessible tracks on the collection. Unlike the girl groups she’s reinventing, Remy doesn’t offer her audience much in the way of comfort, shifting styles with the upside down ballad “Don’t Understand That Man” and the drum-heavy classic rock piece “Slim Baby.” She slides eventually into a fabulous little audio mash up with “Curves,” a collection of clips taken from old radio shows and films wefted together with various sound textures.

In the end, GEM doesn’t fit into any one genre, despite its various influences. It’s at home with glam rock as much as it is with indie, the irreducible connector being Remy’s voice. She moves between influences and sounds with great confidence, and Twig’s production values retain just enough of that erstwhile girl in the basement to remind us how far she’s come.

By Lisa Thatcher

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