Album Review: U.S. Girls – Bless This Mess

[4AD; 2023]

Who says you can’t dance while the world is burning? Someone who would probably groove her way through the apocalypse is Meg Remy, who has been churning out danceable indie pop songs to the tune of shit hitting the fan under the name U.S. Girls for years now, and her last few albums have been especially striking in their genre-blending and smooth force. While the ever-revolving group’s last record Heavy Light was a bit too scattershot for its own good, it did continue Remy and co.’s mission to give us something to bob our head to while thinking about some real issues.

The group’s eighth album Bless This Mess is perhaps Remy’s most impressive single statement. It’s somehow arguably her most wide-ranging album (stylistically and topically) while also feeling remarkably of a piece; succinct even. Written and produced during and after a pregnancy with twins, themes of motherhood and connectivity show up across the album’s 45 minutes like little jewels, surrounded by some other grand statements about some of Remy’s favorite subjects, from consumerism and class to politics and technology.

On their breakthrough album, In a Poem, Unlimited, U.S. Girls provided a not-so-secretly bitter snapshot of the world around us, especially on tracks like the sugary and acidic “MAH”, which vehemently critiqued the Obama administration. As an expat who’s been based in Canada for years, Remy has a real knack of providing both an insular and outsider’s perspective — the grass isn’t necessarily greener, but I remember the old grass.

Bless This Mess continues Remy’s great streak of mixing personal, political, and fun, with more funk and disco touches than ever before. Opener “Only Daedalus” is an out-and-out bop, with a piano-footed swaggering groove and a catchy chorus. Lyrics about selling your soul for material gain — “Lured by honey to the other side / And then you die” — are biting and pointed, but if you want, you can just be taken by the sway of it all. “So Typically Now” is even more hawkeyed in its pursuit of big themes; “Traitors with loans they run this show / So you sold off your condo” sings Remy, over a heavy kick beat and trickling keys. Other sly and lowkey humorous lines (“I sent you an image / You sent me a thumb down” or “Gotta sell all my best to buy more, not less / See you someday in heaven”) show Remy at her best. She may be sword-tongued, but she’ll let you enjoy the bleeding.

When the gears slow a bit, things get a little spottier. On one hand, you have the gargantuan, blistering “Futures Bet”, which starts with a scuzzy quote of “The Star Spangled Banner”, played on metallic guitar. The song’s heavy rock aesthetic meshes surprisingly well with the grooviness supplied by percussively breathy sound effects and Remy’s cool vocal. “Goodbye history! / Why don’t we let it all be a mystery / That we never sort out?” she asks, wondering — probably with a Lucille Bluth-ian wink — if obliviousness is really better than knowing all the bullshit. It’s one of the album’s bigger setpieces, and the risks pay off. 

But on the other hand, there are songs like “RIP Roy G Biv”, which is about as interesting as its cloying title. The Chromeo-style vocal effects on the hook are nice, and Remy’s refrain melody toward the end is quite lovely, but the song as a whole drags on far too long despite not having as much to say as some of the album’s shorter songs. A similar issue arises with the title track, which is quite beautiful and moving — the clouds-parting synths and choir buoy a very pretty paean to accepting what’s here, and trying to lead with love and gratitude — but is too repetitious, ultimately not traveling very far over its four minutes.

But those are small quibbles on an album with songs like “Tux (Your Body Fills Me Boo)” — which is easily one of Remy’s wildest experiments yet, a disco funk epic told from the point of view of a tuxedo forgotten in the back of a closet, that not only works but is one of her best songs to date. Then there’s the closer, “Pump”, where, over the low stutter of a sampled breast pump and supple rhythm and bass, Remy waxes about motherhood, in all its complexities and immediacy. Songs like these cement Remy as a bit of a pop auteur, never settling in one lane, but careening gracefully and kaleidoscopically across medians. Even those aforementioned slower numbers are at least pleasant and include nuggets of pathos that are undeniable.

In the end, “Pump” transitions into a long spoken word section, where Remy says point blank “we’re talking about bodies, birth, death, machines,” which is quite nearly a thesis for the record. As the pump and the ambling keyboards tiptoe, slowly, to the song’s conclusion, Remy states dozens of times: “This one’s for you, and you, and you.” Things may be awful and confusing right now, but they can also be beautiful and meaningful. Remy understands that, and in her own restless joy and curious critiques of the world around her, she’s letting us into that understanding too.