Women are not for the faint of heart.
At first listen, the Calgary foursome often sound messy or just plain bad, at least to those who aren’t intimately acquainted with the jangly, jarring sounds of most art rock. This is not because they are bad — on the contrary, they have earned significant and deserved critical acclaim since forming in 2007. The confusion stems from the band’s strong desire to push its musical expertise to its limits and to craft songs that are at once interesting and challenging, both for the band members and for their listeners.
Public Strain is a logical extension of Women’s self-titled debut album. It maintains and, indeed, builds on the intricate structures and jarring sounds found on Women. For their debut, Women worked strenuously with producer — and venerable musician in his own right — Chad VanGaalen to craft unique sounds for each song. They went so far as to record parts of songs outside the regular setting of studio or even house. Some of the album was recorded in a culvert, for chrissakes.
That same attention to detail is evident on Public Strain once one becomes familiar with the confusing sonic landscape Women strive toward and succeed at creating. While a chord may sound awkward and unusual at first, as in “Heat Distraction,” further listening makes it clear that the band was working to achieve a specific effect with that off-kilter chord and more often than not, the guys succeed.
“Narrow With the Hall” is a good example of how close Women can come to playing conventional pop and it serves as an important reminder that while the band strains to push the limits, there is an underlying musical aesthetic with which most fans will be familiar. Reviewers have lavished favourable comparisons of the band to the Velvet Underground and the Zombies, two stalwarts of the ’60s alternative rock scene and the comparisons are not undeserved.
Public Strain is an accomplished, interesting sophomore effort from a band that promises to explore and attempt to redefine the common conception of music.
They played a show at Amigos recently, which means they probably will not be back for a few months at least. But if you get the chance, I recommend seeing Women live. The group’s live performance makes it obvious that the dissonance, the confusing ambience of the vocals and the all-around weirdness of the music is all not only done consciously but is in fact the point of it all.