Music

Various Artists: Grlz: Women Ahead of Their Time

Charlotte Robinson

This is a fine collection that will shed light on many of post-punk's unjustly forgotten artists.


Various Artists

Grlz: Women Ahead of Their Time

Label: Crippled Dick Hot Wax!
US Release Date: 2005-08-23
UK Release Date: 2005-08-09
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Don't be put off by the subtitle of Grlz, a new compilation of female artists from the post-punk era. This is not a dry feminist history lesson, but an exuberant compilation of post-punk artists who were certainly "women ahead of their time", although it had less to do with their gender than their music. Indeed, the politics behind Grlz are somewhat muddled. The press release's assertion that "the cliché of the dishwashing female... was about to undergo a radical U-turn" is a bit overstated, since the June Cleaver days were well over before these tracks were recorded (1979-84). Women were hardly absent from the music world, either; try that argument with Wanda Jackson, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Mamas Cass and Michelle, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Stevie Nicks, or Christine McVie, and you likely wouldn't have gotten very far. And if the purpose of the compilation is to showcase strong women performing experimental music, why not include bands like ESG, LiLiPUT, the Raincoats, or the Mo-dettes, who wrote their songs and played their own music, rather than bands like Maximum Joy and Rip Rig + Panic, which were female-fronted but otherwise male? And don't even get me started on Bow Wow Wow, who, love them as I may, were clearly manufactured and manipulated by their manager, Malcolm McLaren (not to mention three-quarters male). According to a 1989 biography, McLaren even coerced guitarist Matthew Ashman into seducing teenaged singer Annabella Lwin in order to better control her. Now, feminism that ain't.

But if you can put aside the politics and just listen to the music, Grlz is a great sampler from an era of wild experimentation. Punk had opened the doors to edgy, nonprofessional musicians, new, smaller record labels were everywhere, and larger labels were willing to take chances in order to latch onto the "next big thing", even if they hadn't a clue what it was. Although most of the artists included on Grlz are fairly obscure (Bow Wow Wow is one notable exception), at least they stood a chance in the early '80s landscape. Today's Virgin Records, for instance, wouldn't touch Rip Rig + Panic or Nicolle Meyer with a ten-foot pole even though those artists were once on their roster, and it's hard to imagine EMI would put out a pro-piracy track like "C-30, C-60, C-90 Go!" by any artist, let alone Bow Wow Wow, reliant as their sound was on Burundi drumming technique.

The 11 artists represented here don't sound alike by any means, but they share an affinity for dissonant experimentation and several of them incorporate reggae, funk, and African sounds into their music. If male-fronted bands were included on this compilation, Gang of Four, Public Image Limited, and the Pop Group would fit in nicely; in fact, Maximum Joy and Rip Rig + Panic shared members with the Pop Group. Most of the featured artists are British and rather obscure. And an awful lot of them will make you want to dance, so you might want to turn up the bass. Maximum Joy, who only released one full-length album, contributes "Stretch", a hybrid of funk music and screechy, punky vocals. Dorothy's "Softness" is electro-tinged dance music in which aggressive beats are juxtaposed with delicate, spoken-word vocals. Arty Manchester duo Ludus, whose long-lost albums were reissued a few years back, range from frightening to funny on "Breaking the Rules", a satiric and somewhat anthropological look at love and relationships. The legendary Slits contribute their dubbed-up cover of "I Heard It through the Grapevine", a once rare single that was tagged onto the US compact disc release of their debut album Cut earlier this year. Slits singer Ari Up also handles vocals for New Age Steppers' trance reggae take on Junior Byles' "Fade Away", which the Slits also covered in concert. A pre-"Buffalo Stance" Neneh Cherry leads Rip Rig + Panic through the jazzy "Storm the Insanity Asylum" and the sensual ballad "Sunken Love", a clear precursor to trip-hop.

The music included on Grlz is so good that it's too bad the compilation wasn't fashioned as a two-disc set with liner notes of a more historical nature. Including male artists wouldn't have been out of line either, since this kind of music is obscure enough that no one performing it could be accused of overexposure, regardless of their gender. And, truth be told, there are a lot of male artists on Grlz; they just aren't the ones singing. Still, this is a fine collection that will shed light on many of post-punk's unjustly forgotten artists.

8
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

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.