U.S. Girls Go Grey

[Siltbreeze; 2010]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: broken dream pop, noise
Others: Inca Ore, Buckets of Bile, Zola Jesus

Back in 2008, Megan Remy released her first full-length under her U.S. Girls moniker, Introducing… U.S. Girls. On that icy bath of a record, Remy honed her own brand of mirror-universe pop deconstruction across its decisive, ascetic 25-or-so minutes. The means were simple, almost stark to the point of antagonism — one voice, one drum machine pattern, one guitar lick, heavy tape-distortion, muddy reverb, every idea rigidly rationed out like sugar in wartime — but the collective effect was devastating. Like hearing some post-apocalyptic inheritance of the legacy of popular music, an off-the-radio mixtape driven and beaten to within an inch of its life, Introducing was, in fact, one hell of an unapologetic way to make Remy’s acquaintance.

Two years, a whole bunch of shows, two 7-inches, a cassingle, and a CD-R later, and the second U.S. Girls LP, Go Grey, is making its way into the world. It only takes a few tracks before it’s perfectly clear that she hasn’t just been sitting on her hands this whole time. Generally, there’s definitely something larger at work on this new record than on the first, a more direct implication of the weight of forces beyond Remy’s control and a certain sense of mournful resignation in light of their forward momentum. While Introducing felt raw-skinned and freshly wounded, like the defensive overtures of a denned animal, Go Grey seems to emerge on the other side of trauma, calloused and perhaps even worn out, but also more mature, focused, and sure.

Musically, it’s a much richer affair. Fans shouldn’t worry; U.S. Girls haven’t brought in the string quartet or anything, but there’s a sonic and developmental depth to these tracks that enlivens them without sacrificing Remy’s keen understanding of economy and impenetrability. It’s not that there are really any more elements or ideas here — indeed, Go Grey is often sparer than its predecessor — but Remy manages to more thoughtfully squeeze every muddy drop of juice out of them this time around, dexterously teasing her interest in minimal, repetitive composition away from the pitfall of stagnation.

There’s hardly a dull moment to be found on this record. On excellent opener “Turnaround Time,” for example, her mantric vocals hopscotch over a simple, monotonic rhythmic pattern that slowly coalesces around the introduction of its few elements before speeding up to the point of implosion. It’s one of the album’s longer cuts, but its compositional awareness ensures that, despite its simplicity, by the time it crumples exhaustedly on the floor, it’s never felt as though it overstayed its welcome. Meanwhile, “Red Ford” is the sort of deft, considerate gesture that sets Remy apart from many of her peers-in-fidelity, serving as a compelling retort to any detractors who might accuse her of relying on the tape medium’s basic sonic touchstones in the absence of greater depth.

The album’s biggest surprise is its incredible single, “Red Ford Radio.” The track begins with a straightforward, slow-rocking drum machine pattern, awash in warehouse reverb, which trudges on alone for almost 30 seconds before it’s joined only by Remy’s tenor vocal delivery. On paper, it’s not exactly a formula designed to rock the U.S. Girls boat, but there’s an unusual clarity to this song that startles. Remy draws the faders back from 11 and breaks the surface of her tape-fuzz swamp. Every syllable of every lyric is discernible, and her vocal performance is an emotional suckerpunch, delivering its desperate, violent declarations with an ambivalence that chills to the bone. Although it’s only two and a half minutes long, this rare lapse in Go Grey’s otherwise evasive demeanor allows the album a deep, human breath that enlivens everything surrounding it and offers the listener a solid foothold from which to approach the rest of the experience.

Certainly, U.S. Girls is a project that is defined by its chosen limitations, but Go Grey is a clear indication that Remy is a thoughtful craftswoman, intent on thoroughly exploring the expressive potential of those limitations and uncovering their surprising depths. While the record may not convert any stalwarts in the camp of musical virtuosity, it’s an evocative and well-realized document: a steady step forward for Megan Remy and a welcome entry in the U.S. Girls discography.

Links: U.S. Girls - Siltbreeze

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