Women – Public Strain
Women – Public Strain (2010)
I remember quite clearly the first time I heard Women. I was lying on my bed in my apartment on East 4th Street, listening to a mix by BrooklynVegan editor Bill Pearis – aka soundbitesnyc – and their song "Narrow With the Hall" came on. It was a lazy afternoon and I was dozing in and out, half-listening, but the suddenly blaring cacophony of the second half of the song jarred me to alert. "What IS this?!" I hopped out of bed to investigate this most glorious noise. This would've been around the time I was deep in a shoegaze / "melodic guitar noise" phase and this track which had stirred me from my afternoon languor had hit the mark quite precisely. It was pure, elated guitar chaos. Almost immediately I bought the album, Public Strain, from iTunes.
The album became a staple in my "commute" rotation. The grainy layer of haze that coats the album's sonic palette seemed to suit the monochrome of mornings in the NYC subways. The haze is ubiquitous, but underneath there lies a remarkable range of songwriting. From track to track the structure and purpose of the songs varies immensely, and lends the album a sense of narrative, even if the only lyric I can reliably discern is "you see the designer" ("Penal Colony", track 4). It's full of so much anxiety and tension and dread, but instead of getting balled up in a frustrated tangle, the music channels that energy into something articulate and alluring. A model I should note I've sought to emulate in my own life.
The band Women came to a sad demise not long after the events recounted above: in 2012 their guitarist Chris Reimer passed away. The remaining members reconvened into Viet Cong and released an album in 2015; meeting some degree of public outcry at the insensitivity of such a band name, they pivoted to Preoccupations and put out a couple more albums. None of the output of these subsequent configurations has quite struck the eloquent chiaroscuro of Public Strain, though, to the extant band's credit, they haven't necessarily tried to recreate it. That's no great heartache for me – the album still thrills, and shall someday again serve as a soundtrack to my gloomy subterranean beloved commutes.