Music

U.S. Girls Reckons With Being a Breakout Indie Star on 'Heavy Light'

Photo: Courtesy of 4AD Records

Meghan Remy's experimental pop project U.S. Girls ventures into more mainstream territory to mixed results on Heavy Light.

Heavy Light
U.S. Girls

4AD

6 March 2020

Meghan Remy (a.k.a. U.S. Girls) became a critically-revered indie-pop virtuoso with her 2018 album, In a Poem Unlimited. Singles like "Rosebud" and "Velvet 4 Sale" exuded an undeniable coolness coming from the slick post-disco production with saxophones and synths blaring. Remy also took center stage through a take-no-prisoners Debbie Harry persona, which is maybe best exemplified on "M.A.H.", a not-so-subtle leftist criticism of Obama's presidency. It calls back to the lounge-inspired avant-pop of Stereolab and Broadcast with some unwavering political commentary to boot. In other words, it's already a classic.

U.S. Girls' new album Heavy Light picks up where the last one left off, depending on how broadly you would characterize In a Poem Unlimited. The relatively-long introduction, "4 American Dollars", carries the spirit of the previous album politically and sonically yet with neither aspect as sharpened. The sound is immediately of a different era, but it's more like the Spinners or George McCrae than the expansive post-disco palette of In a Poem Unlimited. She incorporates commentary on American economic falsehoods by referencing bootstraps and offshore accounts and then takes it global in the outro by listing out some major currencies that most people are forced to fight over for scraps. It all adds up to a solid, straightforward opener, but with its grand outro, it was certainly supposed to be more.

Without "4 American Dollars" acting as an electrifying springboard à la "Velvet 4 Sale", the rest of the album just can't seem to find its footing, with some In a Poem Unlimited trademarks reappearing. Saxophone squalls at the two-minute mark of lead single "Overtime" to raise the stakes, but it still feels a little undercooked. "And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve" features an alluring spoken-word breakdown much like "L-Over", and while it might be a little out of step with the rest of the song, it draws you into Remy's unflappable poise as a singer. It's this maximalist style that conflicts with the minimalist production of "Denise, Don't Wait" and "Woodstock '99" near the end of the album. A full album of ballads in this vein might work, but without a clean break from In a Poem Unlimited, they feel minor in comparison.

In critical ways, inspiration has given its way to pastiche. There's a reason you don't often encounter backup singers that sound like they perform in matching luxurious gowns anymore; the timestamp just hasn't faded away. Incorporating other voices, especially when tackling sociopolitical material, is a vital act of solidarity, but the doo-wop approach in "Overtime" and "Born to Lose" feels a bit cutesy. It works better with an intensified sardonic M.O., as in "State House (It's a Man's World)" (updated from a 2011 small label release) where the famous Phil Spector drumbeat leads us into bleak and eerie territory. Still, it is a bit of a nonstarter, especially considering "M.A.H." started with the same drumbeat and then diverged into more exciting territory.

The entirety of Heavy Light feels like a nonstarter: interesting, unique ideas squandered by a lack of blossoming. The album's vibe is maybe best exemplified in the three skits where we get snippets of people asked broad questions, and their responses are layered over each other. The foundation of presenting different voices under a common experience or trauma is evident, but the result is a bit flimsy and unfocused. There's a lot of dead air, which naturally kills the album flow, and apart from a few details in "The Most Hurtful Thing", the responses are predictable. It helps make Heavy Light more down-to-earth and approachable, but a decent album is simply not Remy's best.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

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.