Women: Public Strain

Calgary foursome's prophetic swan song provides a terrifying glimpse into the psyche of a group whose genius was as honest as it was palpable.


Public Strain

US Release: 2010-09-28
UK Release: 2010-08-23
Label: Flemish Eye

Though there are conflicting reports everywhere. It seems that Women have begun a hiatus. Just months after the release of Public Strain, the Calgary, Alberta, foursome’s follow-up to their critically acclaimed self-titled debut, the band engaged in what was allegedly a heated scuffle onstage during a performance at Lucky Bar in Victoria. The performance occurred just two days before Halloween, but this was no trick: Women canceled the rest of their tour and now the future of the band, once considered one of Canada’s hottest musical exports, is in jeopardy.

So what then, to make of Public Strain? On its own, the record stands as a sublimely sparse piece of post-punk radiance. The arrangements never complicate the delicate builds. Patrick Flegel’s melancholic howl gives weight to the disparity in which Women call home, and serves to almost taunt his post-punk compatriots, whose self-aggrandizing nature is mocked ‘till no end on Public Strain. There is nothing grandiose about Public Strain. Every sleek push towards transcendence occurs naturally, highlighted with palpable grace throughout the endless daze of “Bells”, which holds up Public Strain rather well as a centerpiece.

Still, you have to wonder: does the impending doom that’s alluded towards on Public Strain (Hell, the title alone leads this reviewer to believe that they knew the pressures of relentless touring would lead them to crack, eventually) and the fact that this record could be their last increase its sonic value? The answer is, naturally, of course. Which music fan amongst us doesn’t possess just the tiniest flair for dramatics? Public Strain bleeds paranoia, from the apocalyptic rumble of “Can’t You See”, the album’s prophetic opener to the dense, late-night bounce that elevates “China Steps” to something too creepy to define.

When spinning Public Strain, it’s not that far of a stretch to be reminded of Unplugged in New York, Nirvana’s swan song. Now, in no way am I saying that the bloated vision of Cobain and the machine that over-hyped him holds a candle to the pervasive genius of four dudes from Cowtown. I am, however, saying that records like Public Strain are things of beauty because one can’t help but wonder how nobody saw the tragedy that followed these records coming.

As strong as my distaste for Nirvana may be, there is something unflinchingly honest about Unplugged in New York which is just as prevalent on Public Strain. Now naturally, I didn’t see their break-up coming either, but the fact that it did happen just realizes the stark tenacity of “Drag Open” and the humming, somewhat melodic frenzy of “Narrow With The Hall” all the same. The fact that Women were likely experiencing some, or all of the terrified emotions that gave birth to Public Strain makes it that much more honest a listen. It isn’t one that should be entered into lightly.

Women save their best for last, treating fans to “Eyesore”, the six and a half minute floating opus which could very well be their swan song. Stunning, dueling guitars build a wall of sound that could only be scaled with the grandest of intentions. If it was Women’s intention to leave their fans with a glimpse into the haunting, paranoid world which they call home, then they succeeded with flying colors. Sometimes, as music fans, the complicated aesthetics of a group of post-punkers clouds the emotion which originally gave birth to the group’s ideas in the first place. Sometimes, we just want to be told how it really is. And sometimes, things have to leave you before you really begin to appreciate them.


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