Music

Little Scream Combines Easygoing Pop with Serious Lamentations About Politics and Culture on 'Speed Queen'

Photo: Zach Hertzman / Courtesy of Killbeat Music

Montreal's Little Scream offers up reflections on class and poverty disguised as sweet low-key pop songs on her real grower of an album, Speed Queen.

Speed Queen
Little Scream

Merge

25 October 2019

Speed Queen, the third album from Montreal-based musician Little Scream, is a bit of a deceptive record. The music is decidedly low key; many of the songs are relaxed pop tracks featuring gauzy synths, angelic background harmonies, and barely-there guitar and drums. But Little Scream (neé Laurel Sprengelmeyer), has some things on her mind. The music and her equally laid-back vocal delivery belie the genuine anger and concern in her lyrics.

She tips her hand a bit with the album's opening track, "Dear Leader". Without ever mentioning President Trump by name, she proceeds to sweetly excoriate him for roughly six verses, addressing him instead as "Dear Leader", the moniker normally attached to North Korea's Kim Jong Un. As the music recalls a new wave ballad, Little Scream breathily mentions, "Racists who will kill / For their law and order", "Dark money is rising / Like the warming coastal sea", and says "I'm an old fashioned girl / Still believe in democracy." There's a lot more in there, and even though she mentions that love passes every test, it's the unrelenting anger that really comes through. At least once the listener gets past the very pretty music and pays attention to the lyrics.

The title track is just as pointed but on a social level. "Speed Queen" refers to a type of washing machine in a Laundromat, and the lyrics are about struggling mightily just to get by. The chorus shows the level of dream Little Scream's character is at: "Never want to ride around a limousine / I only want to get my own Speed Queen." The music is anchored by a catchy four-chord piano pattern that recurs just enough to stick in the listener's head, and the easy-to-sing chorus makes it simple to ignore the harrowing scenario Sprengelmeyer is laying out.

It's not all doom and gloom covered in a sheen of glistening music, though. "One Lost Time" is a bit of reflection on the nature of love, but mostly it's an upbeat relationship song. A slightly above mid-tempo drumbeat and a low register guitar riff set down the basic groove, while Little Scream's voice floats above it all. "Forces of Spring" is a track that relies almost completely on Sprengelmeyer's singing. For the first verse, the music is sparse, with a snare drum and quiet piano chords serving as the only accompaniment as the words tumble out in a rush about her attraction as well as her caution about how intense those feelings of attraction are. Even as the synths show up and the piano plays more notes and timpanis boom in the background, the focus stays on the vocals and her thoughts on love.

"Switchblade" takes a stranger, darker tack about love. It starts downtempo and bluesy, using what sounds like a talkbox enhanced guitar riff, while the vocals are sultry and full of desire. But the saxophone-backed chorus is jaunty and positive-sounding. She sounds ecstatic to be with this person but also resigned that it might not work out. And the song ends with her repeatedly singing about "the cruel switchblade of happiness".

That same dynamic of entertaining music and dark lyrics returns again and again on the album. The late-night, slightly funky "No More Saturday Night" is about regrets for many weekend evenings lost to drinking. "I wish I could get those years back" is the start of the refrain. "Disco Ball" has the aspirational, positive tone of Springsteen's "Born to Run", albeit with more keyboards and less sax. But like a lot of Springsteen's material, it's lyrically about the downtrodden trying to make a better life for themselves despite ruin all around them. The couplet "I sold myself for the American dream / I got a predatory loan with my spirit on lien" encapsulates the feeling here.

Sprengelmeyer holds back one more fusillade for Speed Queen's closing song, "Privileged Child". Musically it's a bit of a bouncy song, shuffling along with easygoing drums, gently strummed guitar, and upbeat horns. But lyrically, it doesn't hold back on the adult children born into money. "Just another friendly sociopath / Trying to be a gatekeeper in my path" goes one passage, while another admits, "I don't mind burning bridges to gated houses / I don't want to live in." As catchy as it is, though, the song doesn't really even have a chorus, although it does say, "Go hang your head and cry / You privileged child", twice, which pretty much covers it in terms of the song's sentiment.

Speed Queen didn't grab me much at first from a musical standpoint. The songwriting is fine, with a decent amount of variety while staying in its low key, not quite synthpop lane. It wasn't until a few listens in that the lyrical content started to get my attention, and then the record came together much better. Little Scream has some very worthwhile things to say here, and once you're ready to listen, the mild cognitive dissonance between the mostly cheery music and the sad and angry lyrics really pays off. It's a classic grower of an album that is worth the time it takes to sink into your brain.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.