Music: Public Strain by Women * * * *
Women’s work worth wooing
The hipster-approved fourpiece from Calgary -- and not a female among them -- turned on discerning music fans in 2008 with a self-titled debut that fused Beach Boys light with Velvet Underground shade.
Following up an acclaimed first album is no easy task when there's much expectation to meet -- just ask MGMT, 2010's best example of the sophomore slump. Too often, bands fall between trying to do something different and remaining true to what made them special in the first place.
Women have managed to get the balancing act just right. Echoes of the aforementioned influences shine through once more, but there's also room for the sort of Byrdsian guitar rock REM delivered so brilliantly in the early 80s, as well as feedback-drenched distortion popularised by Jesus and Mary Chain.
The album is slightly more accessible than its predecessor, but there's an eeriness and unsettling mood at its heart. It opens with the druggy, hypnotic Can't You See, which sounds like a choice cut from the criminally underrated dEUS, while Heat Distraction revels in the sort of clear, distinct guitar riffs of Television.
Public Strain is a highly atmospheric album thanks to its artfully textured instrumentation, and that's evident on tracks four and five -- Penal Colony and Bells -- which bleed into each other effectively.
This is an album that unashamedly falls into the art-rock category, yet it rarely sounds self-indulgent. That's not to say that there aren't occasional commercial moments -- Drag Open doffs its hat to Sonic Youth and is likely to come into its own in the live arena.
The album's highlight is kept for the penultimate track -- the funereal Venice Lockjaw, a lovely, emotive number that points to a rosy future. Keep an eye on these Women.
Burn it: Penal Colony; Drag Open; Venice Lockjaw