For Calgary natives Women, the release of their stellar debut LP found stars aligning at the perfect time. Jumping into the dissonant, lo-fi muddle of beachy melodies early enough to start the trend instead of simply benefiting from the movement, working with notorious eccentric and extremely talented Chad VanGaalen to hook bloggers and reviewers, and a couple of singles that couldn’t be stopped – Black Rice was and still is le jam – landed the band on countless year end lists and helped make them one of the most innovative and polarizing acts in the Canadian scene.
What was often overlooked was the tightness the band offered up in those fragmented spastic ideas. It was easy to listen to the record start and stop, especially since almost every idea was chopped up into two-minute segments and the band opted to counterbalance chaotic noise and textures with shimmering, layered melodies, and seemed to know exactly when to pull the reigns taught. Even as the record morphed and bent to the point you couldn’t deconstruct the starting point from the end, there was never an ounce of uncertainty.
That confident nonchalance is undoubtedly the star of the band’s sophomore release, Public Strain. Instead of trying to unearth hidden treasures on the beaches that indie rock has picked clean in the last few years, Women present a singular vision, one that refuses to take the easy way out by relying on hooks. Instead, the 42-minutes starts with aggressive abrasions (“Can’t You See”) and dares the listener to keep going until finally relenting for the triumvirate of noisy bliss that is “Locust Valley”, the delightful Velvets-eque ballad “Venice Lockjaw” and the epic “Eyesore.”
And that often tossed around comparison to the Velvets is probably the most fitting descriptor of the band. Not because they sample from the band – although there are certainly several points that could have originated as the band digested the Peel Slowly and See box set – but because the band seems completely unconcerned with how their music is received or what is going on around them. They may not break into 9-minute noise, drone jams but the Calgary quartet will explore any texture or idea without wondering how it impacts the listen, and hide some of the most infectious or tender notes underneath the cloudiest moments.
In today’s ADD music world, it’s borderline suicidal (and at least naive) to think common fans will sit through 35 minutes for the payoff, but Women never compromises their vision. Public Strain is a slow climb that obviously concludes at the summit, but rewards with scenic views almost as breathtaking along the way. “Penal Colony” is a song so beautiful I’m not sure the band could have put it together – at least not in this finished state – two years ago and the chilling cool of “China Steps” is as powerful a four-minutes as the band has ever recorded. The best part of the experience is if you ask someone else, the moments that sparkle brightest for them are probably completely different. Public Strain is a must have record and one that will grow into something bigger and more important over time.