Women - Public Strain

Album cover
Women
Public Strain
Women - Public Strain Review rating:
4.5
User rating:
Average: 5 (1 vote)

There are few other moments in life as blissful as attaining that coveted rush upon first spinning a new album; that grandiose moment of joy where you just fall in love instantaneously, flooded with all the little payoffs that make the art form great. But nay I say to the assumption that love at first sight is essential to a lasting relationship with a record. Beyond something simply being a “grower” or “difficult,” think more of replay value. So many albums have the capacity to deliver that initial jolt, but not always contain a lasting effect. When an album comes along that promotes its own growth and expansion through the time put into it-- not to mention some of the most infectious, airy riffs of recent--there is something to be excited for, if at least marginally. With Public Strain, the second album from Calgary buzz-heads Women, not only are we gifted with a record which is easy to fall into, but one that rewards copious amounts of replay. And through this replay Public Strain develops into more than just a retread, or a simplistic bore full of remedial guitar wankery--it is rather an extremely engaging and rewarding listen. An album with enough quirkiness to make it exciting yet enough pop savvy to necessitate frequent spins.

It is somewhat difficult to describe Public Strain, or really to at least conceptualize it into anything besides “pleasing,” “good;" possibly a photo of my ear to ear grin. Much like the cover depicting a city street engulfed in a blizzard, weaving your way through Public Strain is not too different from maneuvering through an urban snowstorm. The music is rigid and cold, not always instantly appealing yet it has this innate sense of beauty. Which is purveyed through a dense yet faint song-structure that seemingly falls into place to miraculous effect. So much so that by the end, once you reach the insatiably appealing surfy chord progressions of standout “Eyesore,” Public Strain seem less a blustery storm and more a gorgeous, serene landscape; one worth coming back to repeatedly.

 In almost a graduation from the frayed guitars and loose song-structure of their self-titled debut from 2008, Women mash all their meandering post-rock leanings, industrial crunch and sunny 60's pop into a unique beast on Public Strain. Their penchant for washing their Beach Boys-esque melodies under layers of distortion coupled with mechanical guitar screeches and rumbling basslines has matured into a strangely uplifting, hook-heavy bastard child of their formerly prodding sound. Previously Women would have been content to wander the wastelands of distorted-indie rock or at least their debut would have lead you to believe this. Even if “Black Rice” was smack dab in the middle of Women the record still had issues with keeping you around for the duration. Public Strain on the other hand does not really suffer from this ailment--or much of any really. If nothing else the album is a fully realized amalgamation of this subdued, fuzzy, lo-fi guitar rock meets raucous dream-pop recipe the band has attached to themselves. Which grants the record a distinct, singular identity and ultimately for the better, sounds like no one else could have recorded it. Women at first seem to meander and dabble too frequently in the ambient-noise pool yet only a few tracks in Public Strain opens up. Soon revealing just how much the band has perfected their particular aesthetic; or at least how skilled they have become with this specific brand of fuzzy guitar-pop.

At odds with the rest of the album almost, Public Strain really achieves its peak once you reach the four-track suite at the album’s end. Beginning with the metallic guitar work of “Drag Open” the album takes a distinct turn into the structured. And while opener “Can’t You See,” follow-up “Heat Distraction” and mid-section crux “China Steps” may whisp, bounce and claw their ways into your psyche; it’s the album’s final portion that really shines. “Drag Open” is a melodically mechanic monster, entering with frayed guitar strums quickly progressing into a fist-pumping anthem (albeit with near indecipherable vocals.) “Locust Valley” and “Eye Sore” are romps down a damp, dim lit side street on your way to the coastline. Both tracks brilliantly balance their reverb-drenched bombast with a Beach Boy’s dedication to exquisitely sunny melodies; vocal and otherwise. While “Venice Lockjaw” is a gorgeous, demure ballad steeped in folk-rock song progression and ambient melody--it’s Public Strain’s single most beautiful and endearing moment on an album packed with them.

Those potential “singles” are great, but it’s the rest of Public Strain that keeps you coming back for more. But beyond any of those stand-outs, no matter how infectious they are, the album’s legs are in full swing when simply heard in full. In an age where many are satisfied with putting a few strong singles to press on an album with little more to offer than a handful of songs Public Strain is yet another successful argument for the benefits of a complete record. And with an claim as strong as this record, it’s a wonder there is even still a debate.

1. Can't You See
2. Heat Distraction
3. Narrow With The Hall
4. Penal Colony
5. Bells
6. China Steps
7. Untogether
8. Drag Open
9. Locust Valley
10. Venice Lockjaw
11. Eyesore

Four piece art-rock/experimental-pop band from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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