Secret Meeting score: 86
by Joey Cobb
Meghan Remy’s follow up to 2015’s 4AD debut, Half Free,’is her most direct and affecting work yet. It’s laced with distantly familiar fragments from the best of the last fifty years of pop music with an arresting set of lyrics that fearlessly touch upon the increasingly prominent issues of gender roles, domestic violence and sexual intimidation in an age of confused uncertainty.
First emerging just over a decade ago, Remy’s then solo project, U.S. Girls, has since made the steady ascension from avant-garde bedroom tape noise to densely slick, pre-apocalyptic boogie, but not without the gradual acquisition of a range of collaborators along the way. Perhaps the most crucial of these has been husband – Max Turnbull, aka Slim Twig – a musician and recording artist in his own right who was first credited with writing and production contributions on 2012’s, Gem. On this latest album, Turnbull’s grave-dug selection of samples, dusted off and cut in with the groove-laden, razor sharp arrangements of additional producers Lewis Percival, Steve Chahley and Rich Morel, doesn’t merely provide a backing for Remy’s adventurously classic songwriting, but also helps to emphasise it, making this the most accessible U.S. Girls material to date.
The opening breathiness of Velvet 4 Sale drifts through your ear canals, luring you into a familiarly intimate, sometimes uncomfortably claustrophobic world that long-time fans will find solace in, before a stab of brass and a Parliament-style bass line opens everything out to reveal an addictively concise style of songwriting on which the rest of the album is built.
Lead single, M.A.H.’ (Mad As Hell), immediately evokes the industrial kraut pop of Berlin-era Bowie, meticulously collaged over the sugar coated haze of a Spector girl group, while still managing to sound fresh enough to appeal to a generation who may never even have heard of either. In fact, the long-lasting tremors of Bowie’s late 70’s output can be felt rippling in and out of In a Poem Unlimited, particularly in the dissonant fuzzy guitar solo of opener Velvet 4 Sale and the fluttering saxophone squall of Rage of Plastics. No surprise then that Iggy Pop is a self-confessed fan of the band. Not just there to serve as the radio friendly track, M.A.H. gradually unfolds as an unsettling account of building frustration at being naïvely drawn into a suffocating relationship, which in turn drags you deeper into the record’s core.
One of the stand out tracks is Rosebud, which trembles gently and beautifully with an underlying subtle angst. The vocals range from a cool, in-ear whisper to vulnerable, distant yearning, always slinking along above the calmingly powdery drum samples and scattered string flourishes before abruptly warning- ‘It’ll hurt, I promise you’.
The thumping heart of In A Poem Unlimited comes in the form of centrepiece, Incidental Boogie – a foot stomping, three and a half minute shudder of protest disco that pays homage to Blondie and LCD Soundsystem in equal measures. ‘I do what I want, I do what I like,’ chants Remy, self-assertively, as she grapples with the struggle for freedom and identity when caught in a web of abusive relationships and constraining cultural norms. No matter how tough things get, music and dancing can provide a life-affirming, sacred escape, even when you least expect.
On Poem, a shuffling hybrid of Queen’s era-defining I Want to Break Free and the coldly arpeggiated Italo-disco of Chromatics, Remy professes: ‘No one needs to make a profit. No one needs to get paid if we all agree we don’t have to live that way. But to this day, we choose the hard way. We all know what’s right. We didn’t get it from a book or a site.’
From the outset, it’s been clear that under the moniker of U.S. Girls, Meghan Remy does what she wants, the way she wants to do it, with little regard for commercial or financial success. Adrift in a cluttered musical ocean of desperate imitators and phone-tethered attention seekers, she’s what you might call a real artist. A quick scan of live shows on YouTube and you’ll see her dogmatic artistry permeating tiny clubs and vast festival sites alike as she confidently parades around vacuous stages with only a backing track for company, as if out for a night of karaoke with close friends. She appears not to care what anybody thinks, and why should she? Video interviews on the other hand reveal a quieter, unassuming, yet intriguingly wise character, who’s suppressed voice we feel calling out to us from the depths of of this album. On In A Poem Unlimited, Remy’s strong creative vision, ruthless artistic integrity and deep quest for social equilibrium are magnified by the carefully selected entourage of producers, writers and performers that have helped usher U.S. Girls out of a darkened bedroom and into a secret nightclub- one that is a vital underground haven in complex and unsure times.