In early reviews of Women’s self-titled debut (released in Canada a few months prior to its U.S. street date), two comparisons were thrown out into the open pretty quickly: Velvet Underground and Animal Collective. Certainly, in sonic similarities alone, Women share quite a bit in common with both the Velvets and Animals (though not necessarily The Animals), but more than that, it’s an approach or an attitude that puts Women in a similar category as both bands. In the ’60s, the Velvet Underground were making art with music, eschewing predictability and embracing taboos while frequently penning stellar pop songs and the occasional burst of psychedelic noise. Animal Collective, meanwhile, play with rhythm and song structure, ambience and texture, often yelping and beating out a tribal howl when a basic pop song won’t do (and in their case it rarely does).
While Women doesn’t subscribe to either band’s songwriting style, they carve a similar path of abstraction. The Calgary, Alberta, four-piece, whose ranks include sometime members of Azeda Booth and Chad VanGaalen’s band, get their kicks outside of pop music’s comfort zone. The ten songs on their debut are kind of rock songs, sort of pop, very lo-fi, sometimes harsh, frequently gorgeous, occasionally `WTF’ and almost always sublime. But they’re anything but typical. Even alongside one another, Women’s songs don’t initially seem to fit under the same overarching thematic umbrella. Take the first three tracks on the album. “Cameras” builds to a chugging, stomping rock revelation, but quickly collapses after a swift 61 seconds. Then the amazing “Lawncare” crashes and clatters for a solid, hypnotic minute before ascending into stunning, spindly guitar riffs. And from there, perplexingly, Women descend into a three and a half minute ambient wash with “Woodbine.”
On a song-by-song basis, Women’s debut definitely seems a bit schizophrenic, but the group’s adherence to glorious melodies and analog hiss somehow stitches together the seemingly disparate parts. Even in their most dissonant moments, there is harmony. And even at their most melodic, there is discordance. The beautiful “Black Rice” is among their most impeccably crafted and accessible pop songs, yet even within the song there is an eerie layer of reverb, and a blanket of lo-fi static. A track like “Group Transport Hall” is as perfect as pop songs get, yet disappears once it hits the 1:11 mark. The rhythmically complex “Shaking Hand” is the longest track on the album, and also one of the most aurally mesmerizing. The interplay of guitars and bass is awe-inspiring, while the various movements of the song bring new and surprising sonic delights.
While there’s an avant garde sensibility to what Women do, there’s also more than a passing trace of early garage rock and British Invasion, as on the Zombies-like “Upstairs.” Yet even given their more pop-friendly moments, there are exercises in straight up weirdness, like that of “January 8th,” which initially sounds engineered to bewilder, yet somehow finds its bearings in a high speed blast of punk rock drums and freakishly tuned guitars. And in the end, the group gives into their more anarchic urges with the noisy jam session “Flashlights.”
Of the ten songs on Women’s debut, only a handful behave like ordinary songs might. And the rest reveal their brilliance by bucking convention. The band’s stage set up is supposedly just as confusing, upon first look, as the songs may sound—drum machines, samplers, various amps, a matrix of cords and cables—and supposedly it all makes sense when you see the band put these instruments into action. And that is after all, what Women are about. Nothing seems to fit right on a cursory observation, but one solid listen is all it takes to hear the genius within.
MP3: “Black Rice”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.