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U.S. GIRLS In a Poem Unlimited gets 8.5/10

U.S. Girls
In a Poem Unlimited
4AD/Remote Control

8.5/10

U.S. Girls is the lovechild of Philadelphia singer/songwriter Meghan Remy. Initially a foray into noise pop with prodigious use of tape loops, U.S. Girls gradually morphed into darkly sophisticated, electronic-tinged pop. All the pieces came together on Remy’s 2015 effort – Half Free was one of the more underrated efforts of that year, a memorable album brimming with menace. Remy’s follow-up, In a Poem Unlimited, takes a different tack.

While her previous effort was more overtly sample and electronics-based, Remy takes a more traditional and organic approach here. The instrumentation, courtesy of Toronto-based instrumental collective The Cosmic Range, is dense and powerful. Remy took the approach of recording the instrumental tracks live, then sampling snippets as needed and layering her vocals on top. The songs are energetic and varied, digging a lot from the funk, soul, blues and disco vinyl crate, with an occasional psychedelic flourish.

Powerhouse opener Velvet 4 Sale builds an epic atmosphere of cold synth riffs and wah-wahed guitars over Remy’s foreboding verses. Rage of Plastics is a smarmy blues stomp drenched in horns. M.A.H. is a sassy pop gem where Remy gives her voice have free reign to casually belt out one of this year’s best singles thus far. Incidental Boogie is a badass rocker built on a woozy keyboard riff. Rosebud is a seductive jam with Remy’s sweet vocals drawing you into an irresistible underwater soundscape of muted piano chords and muffled but skittering drumbeats.

The two highlights are Pearly Gates and album closer Time. The former builds and builds on a simple little keyboard riff and extravagantly layers on awesome soul vocals and flute melodies. Time is a snarling funk jam that gets up to no good, with wicked guitar leads gnashing their electric teeth over a wall of percussion. Take prime Talking Heads circa 1980, strip away the neuroticism, double up on the sexiness, and you have an approximation.

This album is just shy of a masterpiece. The one caveat is that, in transitioning to instrumental technicolor and more traditional song structures, U.S. Girls has lost some of the darkness of its predecessor Half Free. That record’s songs thrived because its repetitive, monochrome, unmistakeably synthetic backing tracks drove Remy’s lyrical points home. Lyrically the album evoked a ‘Nuclear Family gone awry’ aesthetic – the songs were tales of family breakdown, entrapment and suburban decay.

The lyrics on In a Poem Unlimited are still defiant, brilliant and at times twisted – for instance Pearly Gates tells the story of a man trying to convince a girl to have unprotected sex, but twists it into a religious allegory involving St Peter. Velvet 4 Sale traces a conversation between two women, envisioning a future where women run amok with guns the same way American men have been doing for centuries.  However, the lyrical and thematic grit is not quite as striking as before, ironically buried under music that is sometimes just too irresistible to serve its message. Remy’s vocals also tend to the higher end of the register on many songs here, often sounding like a more impassioned Kylie Minogue. Remy’s core influences have always been girl groups such as The Ronettes, and her vocals in this vein are jaw-dropping. While her 60s-inflected vocals do shine on cuts like M.A.H. and Time, I wish they’d popped up a few more times.

These are minor gripes. If this album is your introduction to U.S. Girls and you like your pop sounding vibrant, feel free to up this rating by a further point. This really is a brilliant art pop effort made with care and passion, and a must for anyone that wants music to both dance to and think about.

MATIJA ZIVKOVIC

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