As much as music appears to be changing, there are many aspects that remain the same. Fundamentally sound music is still, at the core, a foundation that needs to be set and, ultimately, musicianship is the key to that essential element of success. For Canadian band Women, that musicianship was on full display with the nervy, noisy art rock of Women (2008, Flemish Eye). It was an exuberant skill that showcased ambient waves of discord with intricately splendid rock and roll. Public Strain is definitely not Women 2.0: it’s longer (none of the songs are less than two and a half minutes long), and the massive swell of sound that they are still trying to perfect, seems almost capable now.
For starters, it’s entirely different than what was previously heard on their self-titled 2008 album. While that album was crowned on the basis of having strong melodies with loud, yet, gorgeous layers of sound, Public Strain takes the focus and shifts it – only slightly – towards the concentration of songcraft and fleshed-out songs. Gone is the immediate drive of “Cameras”. Here it’s replaced with the spacey ambience of “Can’t You See.” Tuneful, artistic and possessing those impeccably catchy riffs, Women sound enticingly new and refreshing. The album’s lead single closes the album with “Eyesore,” a song that chimes in the same path as any indie rock staple.
There are definitely plenty of moments where the top is blown off and the music is allowed to join in uproar with the blowing wind. Before and after the storm, during the calming lull, the guitars battle through a call and response. But it’s during the explosion of “Drag Open” that we hear some of that trademark noise. “Bells” is where the drones come in and, through some of the most minimalist songs on the album, every change is more significant than the previous. The dissonance and cluster of chords that are at the middle signal the bells to arrive but, instead, the minor melody of “China Step” brings everything back to that aforementioned focus. These are much larger sounds than just ‘noise rock’, and it’s also much more emotionally-charged than what you’d expect.
The songs take shape through their melodies and the band’s impressive skill at blending tightly wound progressions with immense walls of sound. As on “Heat Distraction,” the music ebbs with constant pressure from the guitars and bass; the high-pitched melody and outstanding drumming almost remind you of Deerhoof without notice. Working with Chad VanGaalen seems to be something the band relish in most: being able to turn in different skeletons of ideas to someone whose mind is crammed with musical explorations. The chemistry the band has with VanGaalen is undeniable and they each benefit in the end from it. Some songs like “Untogether,” are nothing more than a patient chug before stunningly transforming into a growing elevation. Understated, it’s as if two alternate ideas seemingly morphed into a creatively great one and, for the most part, that’s what Public Strain is about.
The sounds are still abundantly large, there is no mistaking that. The exceptions that come in to play seem the most thrilling as well: tighter mechanics and wistful songs that sound singularly unattached. Sounds come and go but the inspiration and wherewithal to realize your own goal in tone is paramount. Women seem to know exactly what they stand for and in presenting it they’ve entirely outdone themselves, again.
“Eyesore” by Women