Friday, February 16, 2018

U.S. Girls - In A Poem Unlimited Review

For A Poem Unlimited, Meg Remy's seventh album under U.S. Girls, she decided to work with the eight-man Canadian outfit The Cosmic Range to further expand her unique set of ambitious Art Pop gone Exotica. This wasn't a decision based on a whim, it was another natural evolution of her sound, one that began, much like her contemporaries Julia Holter or Jenny Hval, in music traversing the boundaries of left field experimentation. It seems as though, as each successive U.S. Girls album bridges the gap between Experimental and Pop, Remy's lyrics have become more dense, compensating for the melodies she's often been adverse to. Her last LP, Half Free, was the culminative offering of this duality, incorporating various forms of Pop, from Psychedelic to Hypnagogic, with production that knocked your socks off, as seen on standouts 'Window Shades' and 'New Age Thriller.' However, whereas each previous U.S. Girls record was not only grander than the last, but better, A Poem Unlimited takes a slight step back in both following the presumed peak of Remy's career.

That excludes 'M.A.H.,' which could arguably go down as U.S. Girls' best song. A monumental achievement in the modern music era, 'M.A.H.' provides an instantly-catchy hook through Disco, Doo-Wop, and Funk, genres long since past yet refreshingly renewed byway of an impassioned Remy and opulent production that bounces off the walls. The hit is so inherently likable that one would be forgiven for not realizing the political undertones, not against Donald Trump, as one would expect, but Barack Obama for leaving empty promises towards Remy's gender. Her staunch feminism was well-masqueraded on Half Free, and that continues here, as we see on tracks like 'Pearly Gates,' where a now-dead Remy contemplates having sex with St. Peter to gain entrance to Heaven, and 'Velvet 4 Sale,' where Remy insists for women to get revenge on abusers by using their bodies as bait. Much of A Poem Unlimited concerns itself with the relationship between male and female. It's a topic U.S. Girls has become all too familiar with, and although her lyrics intwine, at times, like a web of emotion rather than a straight-laced story, the tension, power balance, and passion is most certainly there. 

We see that on standout 'Incidental Boogie,' a track that's seemingly about Remy finding a new man to make an old lover jealous because this one leaves no scars from the mental abuse he inflicts upon her. "I feel so lucky to be brutalized, means you don't have to think" she declares over violent and beastly production that drives Remy's scorched vocals into Industrial territory. It's scary to think of the power of manipulation and coercion one romantic interest could have over another, with 'Incidental Boogie' showing just how that dynamic would play out. Interestingly enough, towards the end of A Poem Unlimited, Remy chooses instead to focus on the whole of society's problems, with 'Poem' and 'Time.' Both of these tracks excel in their own right, each thanks to The Cosmic Range's pummeling Art Pop that uses synth arpeggios and effective vocal modification ('Poem'), breakbeat drums and an annihilative sax solo ('Time') to outstanding effect. Commandeering the ship is Remy, questioning humanity's direction on 'Poem,' only to mention on 'Time' that we have "mountains of time" to right the ship. Her message is powerful, and through the right avenues - that being fetching polyrhythms that goes on endlessly - that anguish feels damning.

Unfortunately, beyond the aforementioned songs, which do constitute more than half of the rather quick LP, few other moments evoke the strong and sensual angst and atmosphere that U.S Girls has proven capable of doing. Not only does nothing in Art Pop sound like 'M.A.H.,' nothing on A Poem Unlimited does either, marking the single as a declarative and isolated standout, much like how 'Sparks' was for Beach House's Depression Cherry. The problem with tracks like 'Rage Of Plastics,' 'Rosebud,' or 'L-Over' isn't The Cosmic Range's production, that's as sublime and crystalized as you're bound to find in the genre, or even Remy's lyrics, which consistently allow for one to dissect intensely. In reality, it's the lack of theatric risks the pairing entertains. Unlike Half Free, Gem, or the experimental freakouts on U.S. Girls On KRAAK ('Friendlies + Pamela + GG,' anyone?), which explode, contort, or expand over time, these tracks merely exist, failing to alter from their original state and substance. As someone who began with boundary-pushing in mind, the restrained approach here is rather mitigated. Still, if we're to compare U.S. Girls to her Art Pop competition, and not herself, A Poem Unlimited revels in finely-crafted tunes that'll surely age like fine wine. This, unlike various artists who, in recent years, have resorted to cheap tricks and simple thrills. 

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