In this week’s Freak Scene, Jamie Johns discusses the pluses and minuses of all female compilations, a new release from US Girls and one from the defunct Yellow Swans. Check it after the jump.
Various Artists, My Estrogeneration
A compilation of rising bright weird female musicians like Zola Jesus, U.S. Girls, Talk Normal, Tickley Feather et al. should, and on some levels, does appeal to me. For better or worse, I am a young female music fan who wants to talk about female artists and gender a lot, but devoting one LP compilation just to the ladies has its limits. On the one hand, it is easy to see My Estrogeneration as part of a larger ghettoization of female music as nothing more than female music and as music that only belongs with music made by other women. However, Not Not Fun, the label who released the record, frequently works with female artists so I feel like their intentions were pure with this release. It seems that they simply wanted to celebrate a new crop of female musicians they enjoyed. I can support that. Unfortunately, the genres represented are fairly limited. Or maybe “genre” isn’t necessarily the right term and “style” is more appropriate. Perhaps diversity wasn’t their goal but a vast majority of these tracks are ethereal ladies cooing over eerie loops or bass beats jams, a very particular image of what women making music can sound like. Most of the time, I can get down for cooing and weirdness but only when it is done with uniqueness, nerve, charisma and talent. For every good track on the compilation, there is one that is wholly forgettable. The U.S. Girls track “Blue Eyes on the Blvd,” Talk Normal’s “Warrior,” Valet’s “Thirteenth Time,” Topaz Rags’ “Come to the Now,” and the Zola Jesus track “Heaven Sold You Back to Earth” are the stand outs to my ears. The rest vary between completely forgettable (L.A. Vampires, Inca Ore) to being good but not great (Islaja, Tickley Feather.) If I did this one, I definitely would have included Cro Magnon, Pharmakon, one of a number of minimal electronics goddesses, and maybe I would have tried to convince Nicki Minaj to give me one of her outtakes. That’s My Estrogeneration. At the end of the day, I am on the fence about this record but my basic instinct pushes me towards a positive view of it. Get this LP from Not Not Fun HERE.
U.S. Girls, Go Grey
My rule is that if it gets covered on thefader.com or in The Fader proper, it has probably left the Freak Scene. It is for the best because bands should not be left in the ghetto of Freak Scene forever, but I feel such a kinship and adoration for what Megan Remy does as U.S. Girls that I can’t help but want to write about her stellar new record on Siltbreeze, Go Grey. So seriously, go check out the music video we posted about and then go buy this record. “Red Ford Radio,” the breakout single, is like a can of Four Loko in the best way possible: liable to make you nuts, get in your head, burn, taste like melted down candy, and smell like perfume. These are all sensations that fit Remy’s sing-song storytelling and the way in which she seems to call out those holding her back. It is also insanely catchy and will prove all of those who thought U.S. Girls was too lo-fi totally wrong. The whole record is great but that song has earned at least 100 listens since I picked up the record a few days ago. Other tracks like “I Don’t Have a Mind of My Own” and “The Mountain’s High” (covers) sound like a demented girl gang. Over the course of the whole thing, Remy’s voice peeks out and echoes only to be replaced by a guitar loop or a crash of noise. While this makes the record sound obtuse, it isn’t. The closing track “Down on Jackson” shows what makes U.S. Girls so interesting. Through the mist, the song has enough to make the listener grasp on to it, mostly through Remy’s distorted melodies, but it also points to a whole headspace far beyond the scope of the song. Buy Go Grey from Siltbreeze HERE.
Yellow Swans, Going Places
When did Yellow Swans become the Tupac and/or Muslimgaze of the early 2000s noise scene? Seriously, there have been at least two or three “new” Yellow Swans releases that have landed on my dormstep in the last few months but they broke up in 2008. Yes, noise is often about flooding the market but these are two wide release albums, not hand numbered cassettes with crackers inside or something, that are getting the full CD and vinyl treatment. What’s the deal – why now and why Yellow Swans? Were they even the best of that whole scene? One of these “new” releases is called Live During War Crimes #3 (Release the Bats) and it is a generally useless in the context of the other new release, Going Places (Type,) the record they were finishing when they decided to split. My first instinct was that maybe Yellow Swans saw all the recent kosmische buzz bands and secretly recorded Going Places last year only to release it as their lost final album but the live CD proves this cynicism wrong. The material is approximately the same, there are hints of the more subtle and atmospheric place Yellow Swans were heading towards at the end of their career. Going Places, as expected, just works much better than the live album. It starts off sounding closer to Gas than Yellow Swans’ earlier work or the work of their mid-2000s compatriots. It’s not minimal German forest landscapes or anything, let’s be real, but there are repetitive, eerie, quiet melodies underneath the layers of noise and fuzz that bring to mind Gas. The pairing of those two elements is an effective one that helped me overcome my initial cynicism. After a few listens, I can say I like Going Places. If interested, grip this from Type in the coming weeks.
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