I’m fully aware how dumb and lame it is in 2016 — two-thousand-and-sixteen! — to lump a bunch of bands together simply because women sing and play in them. But. One reason there are more good guitar bands these days than there have been in two decades (at least) is that more women sing and play in those guitar bands than ever before. So step up your game, boys. Or, actually, don’t. Keep on, uh, microbrewing or gaming or listing things or whatever it is you’re doing instead.
When I try I can (mostly) figure out who’s singing when (probably) but why spoil the illusion that any member could at any time make any sound here — rotating from mic to bass to drums like the punkest of volleyballers, these three Minneapolis women kick up a collective clamor with an unmatchable all-for-one espirit and, you might have noticed, no guitars. I don’t miss them much — for too many punks guitars are just thickening agents anyway. Besides the cymbals fill in the silence and the ping-pong bass bits are no less hooky than the plainspoken chant-rant sloganeering. After 15 songs in 28 minutes, I’m a little worn out, I won’t lie, but they’re not, and that’s what matters — in this enervating cultural moment, expending boundless energy is itself a political statement. So is “I don’t wanna/ You can’t make me.” And “You say you got something to say/ So say it.” And “Who cares?/ Don’t be scared/ I’m cool/ You’re cool/ I’m cool/ You’re cool.” And — well, you get this idea.
These New York post(uring)-punks subsume rage into disdain so briskly that I might even wonder whether they’re “really” angry at all if they didn’t target their contempt with such stylishly dressed-down accuracy. On “Cuban Cigars” Sam York gobs full-throatedly into the meals of her city’s wealthy overlords as Elizabeth Skadden’s thick-thumbed bass lags a fingernail’s breadth behind the lurching drums of Vanessa Gomez for a dogged LiLiPUT chug that Rough Trade retreads have been striving to recapture for decades. The gender studies truisms of “Fit the Part” (“Girls are the same/ But costumes have changed”) sound lived in (“Girls are the same/ But costumes have changed”) and “Milk” is vintage Sonic Youth if Kim Gordon had dug lolcats instead of Karen Carpenter. And Vince McClelland’s guitar uses Andy Gill as a launch pad the way so many old-time punks used Chuck Berry.
This 2012 debut has been reissued on “opaque blue colored vinyl” at nearly half the cost someone on Amazon thinks they can get for the original CD pressing, which matters to me only because I get an excuse to review a debut I wouldn’t have shut up about if I’d heard it four years ago. Then it would have been my introduction to Frances Quinlan’s thoughtfully expressive non-Euclidian vocal backflips, which improbably fracture at high volume into the whispery overtones of a pillow-muffled tantrum. Now for me it’s the de facto follow-up to the brilliant Painted Shut, and I can hear unformed moments as gawky as a middle-school yearbook photo here, with Quinlan’s eccentricities occasionally just the melodically noncommittal digressions of a much bigger Jeff Mangum fan than I am. Still, juvenalia this ain’t. The singalong chorus “There are some/ Parents whose/ Children long/ For divorce” is among the most Saddle Creek moments ever Saddle Creeked, and what’s exciting about Quinlan singing “I can’t believe someday I’m gonna die” is that I have no clue whether she can or not.
“Can’t Stop Fighting” sets the bar too damn high. Tina Halladay’s unselfconscious certainty on that so-political-it’s-personal EP opener makes the two great riffs-plus-attitude that follow feel like the dust that’s kicked up after a tire-squealing getaway. But the so-personal-it’s-political EP closer “Nobody’s Baby,” treading in the riff tracks of “Living After Midnight,” reassures me that they’ll clear that bar when the full-length finally comes.
Speaking of a high bar. “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” would have been the best song ever written about struggling free of the straightjacketed identity your personality tics have laced up even if Dacus’s delivery didn’t illuminate its subtleties by swerving from the sass of “I got a too short skirt, maybe I can be the cute one” to the pathos of “Is there room in the band/ I don’t need to be the front man?” “Troublemaker Doppelganger” spirals out from a vignette about a bored pageant winner “put on a pedestal for good hygiene” who’s “too old to play but too young to mess around” to become a fairly heavy meditation on evil. Things do drift after that, Dacus wafting allusively as her band jangles and drones and swells and sways sympathetically but shapelessly, but landing at times on sharp lines like “It’s hard enough for me/ Not to fall in love with every person I see.”