Would-be riot grrrls exceed expectations with a surprisingly deft sophomore outing.
The deliberately skuzzy post-punk grime that is meant to cover the Coathangers' second full-length like a dark film is really only the second most accomplished thing about the album. A freakishly jumbled tour through the riot grrrl rot of my older sister’s prime, Scramble stumbles along with a clubfoot until it finds its placing as a refreshing bit of noise in a tragically derivative setting.
The kind of album with its tongue firmly placed in its cheek and its middle finger raised high in the air, Scramble is nothing if not self-aware. But the Coathangers (whose name alone is enough to indicate where their aspirations lie in regards to their general perception) are a smart enough group of gals to understand that the game that they're playing is, in fact, a game; and one that they can probably win. So, as much as they mug for the camera (as it were) with abrasive vocals and throw-away lines that would have been made to shock 20 years ago, they also bring with them a surprisingly tightly-wound rhythm section that goes back and forth from fuzzy punk anthems to weird little '60s pop throwbacks as easily as they trade off vocals.
Ranging from the shrill to the melodic, Scramble has no general tone or flow. It doesn’t believe in that, it would seem. This is really barely an album. It’s more of a collection of eccentric musings set to riff-heavy DIY punk that doesn’t concern itself with whether or not it is wailing out of the garage or blasting from the alleyway behind the bar. That’s not the point, after all. The Coathangers only appear to concern themselves with staying true their intentions, which is to kind of fuck with your head.
Granted, this isn’t really high concept stuff. But there’s something to be said for a band with such ludicrous sentiments running throughout most of their “You can go fuck yourself” anthems to so purposefully undermine themselves with the more subversive charms of their personality. And Scramble creates such a consistently mixed bag that it all ends up fitting together rather well stylistically.
You can find it when the faux-angelic vocals on “143” contrast the hoarse rambling on “Time Passing”, or while the aimless guitar shredding compliments the rudimentary percussion; or when the Sleater-Kinney aping of “Bury Me” breathes gentle life into the soothing satire of “Dreamboat”. There’s precious few elements on Scramble that aren’t at the very least curious from a conceptual standpoint, which comes with the territory when you…have no concept. It would be kind of tedious and uninteresting if not for all of the fire in the would-be ditch water. Because the Coathangers don’t introduce anything new with Scramble, and that’s their tell. What you take away from Scramble isn’t the unique music, but the unique personality that the music is given.
Priding themselves on being a tightly-knit foursome, the Coathangers sport a solidarity in their songwriting that easily comes across on Scramble. There isn’t so much a front-woman for the Coathangers as there are women at the front, acting as unit -- a unit of petulance and fuck-all, but a unit nonetheless. “Well, I aint ever been a lady” yelps Julia Kugel on album closer “Cheap Cheap”, but who knows if she’s even telling the truth?