U.S. Girls began as Meg Remy’s project in 2007 and her fifth LP Half Free, released via 4AD, expanded her fanbase internationally. Until now her work had a certain consistency: drone washes and timeless pop melodies collided in a perverse Scott Walker- esque way, while a parade of often victimised and downtrodden female narrators lent their voices to songs that felt more like sonic short stories.
On follow-up In A Poem Unlimited, Meg’s got eight-piece Toronto group The Cosmic Range providing the score. Thanks to their backing U.S. Girls sounds slicker and sexier, an observation that’s difficult to voice when you note that a few of these songs are about hardcore emotional and physical abuse and violence. When I grab Meg on the phone I tell her that it feels like a feminine Tarantino flick. She laughs.
“I’m trying to tell some stories from my own life” she explains. “I’m trying to be honest about some things that I’ve experienced and witnessed, and I’m trying to open it up to the public in a healing way for myself and maybe for others as well. I’ve gotten so much courage from reading things that people have written when they’re sharing their truth, and I really think that this stuff is evidenced by #MeToo. This is something that gets spread and it’s something that needs to get spread. And although I feel exposed in doing it and it’s a risk and the harder sell and all that, I just can’t keep my mouth shut.”
At its core The Cosmic Range takes the U.S. Girls sound into deeper creative waters. They channel glam rock (‘Velvet 4 Sale’), disco (‘M.A.H.’), industrial (‘Incidental Boogie’) and funk (‘Time’) among others. For Meg, freewheeling experimentation was instrumental in creating something that wasn’t some variation on the lobotomised corporate muzak selling volumes today.
“I don’t ever wanna be making an album thinking people may not get it. If you’re concerned with that then the vision is tainted and you’re just making commercial music. It’s not expression anymore. Capitalism has taken all the mainstream currents of culture and crushed their soul because in order to mass produce and sell in that kind of way it needs to be very basic, like white rice. I’m proud to have an album that’s a tough sell. I’m not giving up on people. I think they’re hungry for meaning and complexity.”
Still, for listeners this is the easiest U.S. Girls album. It’s okay to opt out of the lyrics and enjoy the sonic cradle provided by its shining melodies and instrumentation. But Remy has left lyrical plums to find all over it for those looking. ‘Pearly Gates’ features a woman awaiting the eternal verdict who feels coerced into fucking St Peter for ascendance. On ‘Poem’ we get the most universal statement, made not through narrative songwriting but with Meg’s own reflections. “That’s just me post-Trump,” she says, recalling her frustration with the man who grabbed America by the pussy.
“I’m not giving up on people. I think they’re hungry for meaning and complexity.”
In A Poem Unlimited is an album that reminds us in every song of the dire state of things. But the record’s call to unite isn’t contained in any pithy line or couplet. It’s contained in the possibility that perhaps music and storytelling like this means more than anything hate speech ever could.
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