Canadian based U.S. Girls is Meghan Remy’s moniker, like John Darnielle is the Mountain Goats. Her latest release, In a Poem Unlimited, reveals a dark sense of humor about living in the modern world. Her songs show that she listens to the sinister voices that live inside of us; the ones that form our identities as reactions to the horrors to the world outside. That doesn’t mean she’s not having fun. The album is full of sly lines and references to the absurd.
She dreamily sings of revenge. Her lyrics softly offer scathing indictments of everyone from St. Peter at heaven’s gate to President Barack Obama in the White House for the sins of men. And she means men. Promise them velvet, but give them a bullet instead. In an age of plastic, one can always wear a fake front to hide the fright.
The brutality of living in a historically sexist universe that still dominates our society are spelled out on several songs over a mostly convivial disco beat, although there are several times when the horns loudly squelch and blare their anger in protest. In a Poem Unlimited offers certainty over contradiction. Remy may loathe violence but understands the pleasures of getting mad. The songs offer a release from moral uncertainty. Even when she asks in a raspy voice, “Why do I lose my voice when I have something to say,” which she sings three times in a 30-second song by that name, the question is purely rhetorical Those are the only lyrics and we hear them.
Remy is acutely aware of her position as the creator. She plays the victim but not the innocent one. “To be brutalized means you don’t have to think / And life is easy when there is only pain to compete / Life is easy”, she sings on “Incidental Boogie”. The music gets into a groove. She may be complicit, but that’s only because the game of love is rigged. The cost of freedom is too high. If love is hit and miss, she’ll take the hit. Or not.
Her rage suggests multiple interpretations. “We all know what’s right,” she sings on “Poem” over an electronic beat. She uses a live band, members of Toronto’s Cosmic Range, to keep things fresh. The music swirls and squeals like an Atari game on steroids. Guitars, bongos, and horns take off on flights of fancy. They do more than just color the material or provide background but speak in a voice as loud as Remy with the insistence of an alarm clock. Consider the album’s last song, “Time”. Remy sings that there may no longer be enough time (to change?) for the first two and a half minutes. For the next five-plus minutes the music continues to seethe and explode without her in a fusion of Albert Ayler meets Frank Zappa free jazz.
She may play a spy in the house of love on these songs, but Remy understands she’s no opera singer. Her melodramatics are in the service of the material. We may be living in hell. Women in particular may be living in a worse hell than the rest of us. But as John Paul Sartre taught us long ago, hell is other people. What choice do we have?