U.S. Girls – “Half Free”
The cover for “Half-Free” – U.S. Girls’ most recent and best release, features a gorgeous black-and-white portrait of lead singer and songwriter Meghan Remy staring straight into the camera. It’s a photo seemingly plucked right from the cover of a fictionalized, 1950s edition of ‘Good Housekeeping.’
As the record starts and music slowly fades into earshot, Remy describes a forlorn domestic scene: like a bastardized version of “Can’t Hurry Love,” Remy channels a Diana Ross who’s filled with regret – for picking an unfaithful partner; for neglecting her sisters in favor of another man.
“Sororal feelings / Erased from the minute you settled on me / And now I’m gonna hang myself / Hang myself from my family tree” – croons Remy in “Sororal Feelings,” a love note to the sisters she left behind.
Initially, Remy addresses her womanhood as something that can’t be escaped. She lacks agency, resigning herself to the notion that her path was determined long ago. ‘Half Free,’ however, isn’t great because Remy resents being a female in a male-dominated society. It’s a great album because her outlook evolves over the course of its 30-plus minutes from a lamentation on the patriarchy into a feminist call-to-arms. That album cover isn’t an homage: it’s biting satire.
Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities to Love”
Long before singer-songwriter Carrie Brownstein became a household name among Northwest hipsters by starring in the TV show Portlandia, Sleater-Kinney wrote and performed gut-busting feminist anthems that laid the groundwork for modern female voices in punk-rock. The band’s eighth album, “No Cities To Love,” came nearly ten years after their seventh. Those who grew to know Brownstein as an actress now had a chance to listen to her music. And amazingly, the album ranks among the band’s very best music. It’s as if the time off reinvigorated the band. The modern political climate surely helped, too.
Brownstein, of course, is the most famous member of Sleater-Kinney, but co-singer and guitarist Corin Tucker might be the most vital part of the band’s success. Her screeching guitar on opener ‘Price Tag’ turns the anti-capitalist anthem into a dark harbinger of things to come. When they released the album in early 2015, there’s no way anyone could have predicted the rise of Donald Trump or the inherent classism present in legislation like “Right to Work” (which is controversial in the state of Missouri right now) – but the music itself serves as an eerie, forward-thinking commentary on modern America.
Most importantly, the songs are catchy – the poppiest music Sleater-Kinney has released. Although no tracks reach the irreverent heights of ‘The Woods’ cut ‘Modern Girl,’ every song has a zip that Sleater-Kinney rarely exhibits, even at its best. The title track is a perfect example of their newfound pop sensibility. Every song is short and to-the-point. Sleater-Kinney is not fucking around. Not that they ever have.
Sheer Mag – “Compilation LP”
Sheer Mag might be one of the most exciting bands in the indie music scene in 2017, but they’ve still quite spectacularly flown under the radar. Infamously averse to signing with a major label, the Philadelphia band has always done things its own way, with a fiery feminist energy that fails to conform at every turn.
“Compilation LP” is the band’s first album, recycling and remastering songs off of its three EP’s. The results are amazingly cohesive. The lo-fi punk energy is still there, but the hooks are more poppy and those ragged guitar solos stand out in the mix. If the band does sign a major record contract, I’m not so sure it would result in a sell-out. These songs are mini-punk classics – and Sheer Mag hasn’t disappointed yet.
Lead singer Christina Halladay belts sometimes unintelligible lyrics that become more profound the more you listen.
“When you see something that makes you sick, do you button up, or do you bleed?” screams Halladay on standout track “Button Up.”
These songs are imbued with that energy, pushing women to fight back against injustices. There’s no mistake: this is a radical feminist band. It just happens to contain some of the best songwriters in rock music.
Sheer Mag has the potential to become very successful over the next few years, and the band will undoubtedly gain more traction with more releases. As long as they don’t lose that fervent musical passion, I’m all for it.