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Public Strain

[Jagjaguwar; 2010]

By ; September 27, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

When Women released their debut back in 2008, the band was somewhat of a mystery. Despite their misleading name, they are actually four guys from Canada. Further, their sound was almost impossible to pin down; Sometimes industrial art rock and at others, melodic pop, Women seemed a different band on each track.

While the band remains just as experimental on their second effort Public Strain, they have successfully engineered a more cohesive sound. Instead of bouncing from one style to the next, frontman Patrick Flegel and co. generated 11 songs, most of which have pop blueprints hidden beneath guitar madness, distortion and electronic noise. The band has found a way to integrate their influences, and the finished product is often much more interesting than anything found on their debut.

Some of their most intriguing songs are created when the band plays with opposing rhythms. A perfect example is “Heat Distraction,” the second song on the album and easily one of the best. The different sounds clash violently but work together seamlessly. They pull off this balancing act again on “China Steps,” which sounds as if it’s at war with itself.

Public Strain is much less sporadic than their self-titled. While some songs on their last album suffered from an overload of different sounds, styles and experiments, the songs are more focused this time around. Songs like “Venice Lockjaw” prove that the band can stick to one melody and still deliver a great tune. Even when the songs meander, they often end with the same structure as they started with, which gives these songs a traceable identity.

Some things remain the same; the album has the same urgency that Women had coursing through each track. There is an energy and relentlessness that serves their music well. Even on slower tracks, such as the angelic “Penal Colony,” the intensity never lets up. Also, the lyrics are still mostly unintelligible. The vocals are less about the words and more about an added layer of sound. Even though barely anything can be deciphered, the songs actually benefit from Flegel’s echoey vocals. They give the cold, industrial atmosphere some needed emotion.

Public Strain is certainly a leap forward for the band, but there are a few missteps, like the timid and forgettable “Untogether” and the aggressive “Drag Open.” The latter sees the band falling into the familiar trap of overloading. “Drag Open” is nearly five minutes of relentless stylistic twists and turns that are difficult to keep up with and hard on the ears. It’s the only noise rock song that just sounds like noise.

At over six minutes long, first single “Eyesore” is given room to explore different tempos and arrangements in a way that never sounds rushed or congested. Despite its length, it’s one of the most accessible tracks on the record and engaging from start to finish. “Eyesore” sums up Public Strain pretty well: it’s noisy but melodic, complex but catchy, and filled with surprises.


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