Live Review: Words: Dominic Valvona




U.S.  Girls  Live  At  Stereo,  Glasgow,  May  19th  2018

Swapping the tape collage and loops (to a point) for the full-on experience of a live band on tour, Meg Remy seduces the Glasgow audience tonight with the most sophisticatedly sexy, often louche, of pop dynamics.

Remy is able to captivate with bittersweet pouting malady the most traumatic, darkest nature of patriarchal sexual control and seamiest aspects of capitalism whilst slinking to a cerebral mix of glitterball disco, raunchy pop fantasy and on as demonstrated on the finale from her most recent album, In A Poem Unlimited, and tonight’s curtain dropper, ‘Time’, no wave meets contorted jazzy break beats.

Embracing then, the seductive forces of pop music, Remy’s unsavory but vital exposés and therapeutic exercises in acknowledging trauma and abuse are made more palatable by this shift; and in turn reaches an increasingly wider audience. Channeling femme fatales and maverick artists such as Ronnie Spector and Gloria Ann Taylor and more modern alluring pop stars, Remy slips these dark themes under a sonic soundtrack of glorious disco, boogie and avant-garde experimentalism.

Showcasing a looser funky sound, backed by the Toronto hothouse supergroup The Cosmic Range (a collective that at any one time traverses Afrobeat, Krautrock, boogie and free-jazz), the central force of nature at the heart of what was initially a solo project, since expanded with a full cast of writers, producers and collaborators all willing her on, Remy yet again performs in character. Previously taking the brilliant (and one of our albums of 2015) Half Free out on the road with just the backing vocalist Amanda Grist (of Ice Cream fame) to keep her company, dressed like a leotard wearing Olivia Newton John, sporting a chic cropped hairdo, Remy returns with longer sporty locks, wearing a laced backed crop top, flanked by a duo of energetic male and female vocal sparring partners.

Performing more or less the entirety of this year’s album (her second for 4AD), with subtle transformed versions of Half Free tracks ‘Window Shades’ and ‘Sororal Feelings’ (made far more limbering, elastic and, again, sexy), this flexing multi-limbed incarnation of the U.S. Girls powers through, what seems, a short but explosive set.

Far too many band members to name, let alone all chronicle their ever entangling nuances and connections, Remy’s Cosmic Range troupe notably features husband and native Canadian Maximilian Turnbull, aka the space boogie guitar maverick Slim Twig, on doodling and noodling guitar duties, but also, playing his lungs out, some guy whose name I didn’t catch sucking and blowing on the tiniest of saxophones a wailing but also accentuate contortion of the Plastic Ono Band and a strung-out soul imbued Bowie.

Arriving late and already half-cut (blame the Cup Final, Royal Wedding and a surprisingly summery day in Glasgow; celebrated with liberally poured cheap Champagne from Aldi) we missed ShitKid, who I’m sure was a perfectly congruous support act. But apologies aside the vocals tonight could have been clearer, obfuscated at times by the sonic overload of the Cosmic Range, bouncing off the venues walls and the unfortunately placed concrete column that cuts the room in two. We could have also done with an encore; the band pretty quickly exiting without a word, disappearing off stage with no announcement (in fact there wasn’t any dialogue with the audience at all) at barely 9:30pm (possibly the earliest finishing gig I’ve ever been to). But despite this and though the words and subjects may get lost, the cadence, mood and anger translates into the most hypnotizing of agonies and troubling ecstasy.

Still, the Obama berating cooed disco thumper ‘M.A.H’ sounded lusher and hypnotizingly powerful live, and the twisted gospel Catholic gilted ‘Pearly Gates’ (originally featuring the soulful tones of James Bayley) was positively withering with venerated parody and a sweating chemistry between Remy and her vocal partners. The all too soon last song of the evening, ‘Time’, was a wig out of taut jamming and increasingly distressed, almost primal, screaming: A sonic funk attack.

Remy once again held the audience in her gaze and proved beyond doubt that she is one of the most exciting, dynamic and interesting artists of the last five years. Me and my entourage, and by the look of it that night, the entire Glasgow audience was enthralled anyway.

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ALBUM REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA



U.S. Girls   ‘In A Poem Unlimited’
4AD,  16th February 2018

Featuring most of the Toronto cast of collaborators that propelled the first U.S. Girls release for 4AD records, Half Free, forward, but stretched and lushly flexed into space boogie and other equally eclectic grooves by the city’s multi-limbed collective The Cosmic Range, Meg Remy’s latest cerebral pop revision tones down some of the vibrancy for acerbic, sax-wailing pouted-lips resignation and introversion.

Moving across the border from the USA with her husband and musical collaborator Maximilian Turnbull, aka guitar-slinging maverick Slim Twig, long before Trump reached The White House, Remy has broadened her postmodernist transmogrification of bleeding hearts 60s girl group meets tape-loops signature to accommodate femme fatale disco and funk since making a new home for herself in Canada.

With the emphasis on the dark machismo and chauvinist undercurrents and pains of womanhood that lie beneath the surface of the records created by such groups as The Ronettes and disco artists such as Gloria Ann Taylor – her relatively obscure but sublime plaintive Love Is A Hurting Thing transformed into her own seductive lamentable Window Shades by Remy on her last album -, Remy makes acidic, sometimes bitter ironical commentary on contemporary issues; from personable anecdotal evidence to cross-societal issues: an end to the war machine; an end to the patriarch; an end to the nascent forces of disunity.

Thematically In A Poem Unlimited’s dark meditations and character studies reflect, as Remy puts it, ‘the changed atmospheres that directly precede and follow acts of violence and the desperate strategies used to mitigate its infliction’. Remy however also, and as a consequence, turns on political and spiritual leaders and the lies that they, as much as all of us, tell each other to survive. Though Trump can’t help but draw a miasma over proceedings, its surprisingly the charismatic, lauded over by the left, Obama who meets the ire of a disappointed, expectant but crushed, Remy on the album’s most bouncy weaponized boogie, M.A.H. Suddenly picking up after a somewhat labored start, the third track on this eleven track album, Mad As Hell, reevaluates those two-terms in office with a chic Ronnie Spector fronting Blondie style diatribe. Obviously an original supporter, now pulling apart the enigmatic myth, she lands some solid blows on a number of policies and actions – including an increase in drone strikes – that undermine Obama’s celebrated status (almost considered saintly). A real swell disco preening pop hit with substance, it’s one of the album’s most effective highlights and one of 2018’s best tracks.





Continuing that musical sensibility, the album’s other most vibrant pop standout, the seductively Catholic laced, anecdotal Pearly Gates, reimagines a controversial prime 80s Madonna in a venerated heavenly pout against the dubious and dangerous sexual practice of “pulling out” at the moment of release – another story as told to Remy by a friend, but an all too twisted practice of unprotected sex, the male protagonist boasts: “I’m really good at pulling out.”  Twisting religious icons (St. Peter) and the liturgy into a tale of sexual pressure, Remy is joined by fellow Toronto artist James Bayley, who adds a real nice swooning soulful gospel harmony to the metaphorical “pearly gates” hip-hop, disco and pop crossover.

In the pop mood still, Incidental Boogie is a bruising (“to be brutalized means you don’t have to think”) tumult set to a contorting tropical limbering Chewing Gum Annie meets The Cosmic Range glitterball swank, whilst the, often egalitarian but fanciful sentiments utopia, arpeggiator electro glide in neon Poem sounds like a vaporous Moroder era Sparks fronted by Kylie Minogue channeling Olivia Newton John.

The influence of the Toronto Cosmic Range collective – an interstellar shindig facilitated by Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn, which features both Meg and Turnbull and a host of other musicians from the area, with a sound that stretches from Ash Ra to Sun Ra – can be heard on the album’s more quack-boogie and contorting jazz pumped workouts. The final thrashed out jamming group effort Time grows and grows from funk chop bordering on Broken English style vivid broody 80s disco-pop to no wave.

The momentum of this album fluctuates throughout, and compared to Half Free, takes a lot to bed in and flow – and I’m still not sold on the two skits -, starting as it does with the aching ponderous slow burner Velvet 4 Sale – perhaps Remy’s most dark fantasy yet, imaging (just imagining mind) a role reversal of power, as she implores a girl friend to buy a gun for protection, impressing that the only way to change men is for women to use violence. An unsettling twist played out to a dragging soul fuzz backing track, the song’s central tenant imagines a world where women take up arms against men, though Remy ‘deplores violence’ of course. It’s followed by an equally sensually nuzzling sax and yearned vocal performance, and take on the Plastic Ono Band, Rage Of Plastic, before picking up with the already mentioned M.A.H.

Still an impressive album by an obvious great talent who dares to be provocative where it counts, adding danger and darkness to the mostly bland in comparison pop scene, Remy’s U.S. Girls vehicle – a collaborative effort, though Remy leads and carries it as a solo project – continues to revise past musical influences to produce an objectionable expression of feminist anger and grief. Hardly disarming, In A Poem Unlimited deplores the present hierarchy with a seething checked rage, set to a challenging but melodious soundtrack of yearning no wave, scintillating chic disco, Plastic Ono Band soul, vaporous 80s pop and even jazz. The patriarch comes in for some scathing poetic justice; played out to some great tunes.



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