Good Records from 2018: “A Poem Unlimited” by U.S. Girls

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In a disintegrating world, music has finally returned to politics as a way of making sense of what’s going on around us. This, for those of us who have a long memory, is not necessarily a welcome development. As a teen of the nineties, I can still wake up in a cold sweat remembering Ocean Colour Scene over-earnestly and repetitively revealing that they “don’t wanna fight no war”, despite the fact that clearly no one was asking them to. Though the sentiments are often welcome, the results too frequently end up being tedious tripe that looks like it’s been cribbed off of the back of a badly made placard. However, this does not have to be the case.

Enter U.S. Girls, six LPs into the game, whose brand of feminist art-pop has finally come into fashion with A Poem Unlimited. On one hand, nothing much has changed lyrically from the rougher corners of their breakthrough LP Half Free, it’s more just that, with the rise of Trump and the fall of Weinstein, their cultural moment has arrived. But the introduction of a more commercial approach has certainly paid dividends; where previous albums could feel a bit dry and challenging, A Poem Unlimited is never less than terrifically sparkling pop, setting Meg Remy’s discomforting tales of power and its abuses to a variety of incongruous and gorgeous backgrounds.

You might be forgiven for failing to notice the rape revenge story at the heart of otherwise blissed out opener “Velvet 4 Sale”, such is the wash of sun soaked psychedelia that the song is drenched in, its lazy beats and shimmering wah hiding a tension within its folds. Other songs however feel more overt, such as the disco stomper and political rallying cry ‘Mad As Hell’ or the deeply uncomfortable “Incidental Boogie”. Here, Remy plays a brainwashed victim moving between abusers and only beginning to imagine a world outside of their control, as the music keeps up its relentless, beat driven fury all the while.

But perhaps the most relatable song here is ‘Poem” where, ironically, Remy does stray into those gentle platitudes that might, at another time in history, have sounded distinctly trite. However, at the moment where many of us are considering the possibility that this may not be a drill anymore, it could be argued that someone simply standing back and saying ‘how did we end up this way?’ captures the prevailing mood in a far more evocative way that any number of savage, issue driven polemics are able to. Capturing the moment is the key tenet on A Poem Unlimited, and it is this which helps make it not only one the best records released so far this year, but a record from a band whose time has finally, clearly and thankfully come.

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