In high school I would angle my way between wobbly phalanxes of kids while Bikini Kill-era Kathleen Hanna caterwauled through my headphones. Her lyrics were hard to understand, and I maintained them unreconstructed to her point. Instead, I thought of her voice as a transom that supported and oversaw my own onanistic propensity for being angry. I was a hidden coaxial hero of a counter-culture that was pretty dead as I marched against my peers with Bikini Kill’s, probably, corroborative assessments. I imagined Eminem gurgling his last as my epicene fury fried the frequencies of every headphone that housed him. Which was all exactly wrong, because did I still use my supposedly heroic taste to try and impress girls? Yes.
While listening to Hit Reset my chest contracted as the Belial of my previous self was totally dismantled by “Mr. So and So.” A song sung from the first person perspective of “just for show” boys who jump out of planes “with Sleater-Kinney T-shirts on” and “show your autograph to (their) Women’s Studies class without hearing what the teacher has to say.” Specious guys that swarm like happy maggots on their phony tofu-carrion of societal standards; believing their idealization of themselves makes all the difference. Kathleen Hanna’s triumph over them may be an easy victory, but it’s a necessary one. It elaborates the omnipresence and insidiousness of double-standards and might actually make these specific practicers of such rethink themselves. It’s a good balance to “Be Nice” as well, which is, from what I could glean without having the lyrics, about those deaf-to-change gaslighting and predatory creeps that are all too common in personal and media life. The song is structured around a chanted “be nice” that becomes increasingly warped and desperate while remaining indefatigable. Since 1991—which means Bikini Kill released their first cassette post “Kool Thing“‘s auspicious call to inquisitive action, and yet concurrently with “Smells like Teen Spirit,” which with the mainstream’s benediction allowed kids to be misforgiven in their apathy—Kathleen Hanna has continued upping the ante of how many winds a person can catch before succumbing. “Be Nice” is another round in her bar-rattling incitements that won’t abate until they’re heeded.
However personal, in a Carol Hanisch way, Kathleen Hanna has been throughout her career, with Hit Reset she is also personal in an Aimee Mann way. Evinced by “Rather Not”’s abuses of unrequited love and by moving past the false perceptions of herself in a relationship where “the stunt (her couldn’t) take the tears away” on “Let Me Go.” Since before working with Le Tigre this might be the first time her voice hasn’t sounded processed through precrinkled tape. If this was induced by the lyrics, many of which celebrate self-acceptance, I wouldn’t be surprised. Especially considering the song that is most shrouded in fuzz happens to be “Be Nice.”
The music generally leans toward power-pop insistency, but with some easter-eggs hidden in that framework. They pull off a “Let’s Dance”-esque riff on “Time is Up;” but the keyboards contribution to “Hello Trust No One” makes me think of Valley Girl montages, and the keyboard on “Roses More Than Water” sounds like scraps from an Iron Butterfly practice. The band is at their best, for better or worse, not during their own experimentations but as propellants for Kathleen Hanna’s vocals.