Great artistic invention often takes more than a few attempts to decipher, internalise and truly enjoy. From Greek drama to impressionist painting, it is a rare feat to simply fall in love with truly astounding works of art. It takes a prolonged, deep stare or a number of readings and re-readings until fully realised in the dark recess of your mind preserved for storing the things that inspire and fill your heart with awe. Music is no different, though the broad and divisive genre often summed up as pop music generally seeks to thrill within three minutes, aiming to grab the body with a hook and embed itself at the forefront of the brain. Then again, plenty of wonderful artists ignore such conceptions with one such act known as Women, a Canadian quartet, releasing a second album requiring multiple run throughs, titled ‘Public Strain’.
I mean no derision towards pop music with my words (Pet Sounds is one of the most beautiful creations ever committed to record), especially because a lot of the sound and nuance of Women has its origin in the genre. Sure, it’s hidden behind muted vocals and echoey guitar noodling, but really listen (seven or eight times, of course) and there are flashes of 50s surf pop rock and 80s new wave implanted in-between the lines.
‘Heat Distraction’ starts with a thump and a Southern rock beat before developing a captivatingly jerky discord. The slide into ‘Penal Colony’ gives way to Velvet Underground strumming and harmonic vocals, all wrapped up in an atmosphere that coats the whole album. The aforementioned atmosphere comes from the whole piece being dipped into an ocean full of reverb, adding the rolling waves of calm and nostalgia that inevitably sink into the pores. ‘Bells’ personifies this attitude to a tee, itself a completely wonderful mass of foreboding. ‘Drag Open’ takes another stance, disharmoniously roaring into existence, gaining in melody and composure with each passing verse. The feel of the music sways from the claustrophobic to the dark, expansive fields of exploration and bewilderment, at all times building in control, evocation and maturity.
If I didn’t know better, I would swear this was a concept record. The steep driven path of the record, with songs simply melting into one another without concern or clamour, resonate a narrative, albeit a jumbled and delayed tale that sits uneasy on the psyche. What such a concept may be, I do not yet know; a disoriented aura of dislocation and dissonance possibly? I think maybe I need a few (interpret as ‘a lot’) more run throughs, in order to fully comprehend. Finally, I feel I could not escape without at least briefly dropping in Sonic Youth as a palpable presence in the tone and tenor that permeates the wall of wonderful music that shines on ‘Public Strain’. Women are a band with ideas, and astounding, thought provoking ideas at that. What they do next may very well be repeated infinitely.
Words : Adam Parker