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Public Strain
Format: CD / LP / MP3
Release Date: September 28, 2010
By Nick Dean March 3, 2011

On the heels of Skyscraper’s relaunch, we’ll be reviewing a number of records from mid-to-late 2010 that we missed out on covering during our semi-hiatus. Sort of a “what we missed” series of reviews, emphasizing both some of the best releases of 2010 and some of the year’s most interesting but overlooked records. This is one of those.

I look at the cover of Women’s sophomore album and can relate. It’s winter here in Western New York and we’ve been hit with it. The snow makes for slow going. Everything takes longer. The days start earlier, with the physical labor of shoveling. Then there’s added time onto commutes and the cold, quiet co-workers, silently dreading their return to the roads.

Public Strain matches this mood, in a way. Immediately, the album’s noticeably less raucous than the Calgary, Canada, band’s 2008 self-titled debut, also on Jagjaguwar Records. The label’s home to such other acts as Black Mountain, Parts & Labor, Oneida, and Sunset Rubdown, which makes it a perfect fit for the Chad VanGaalen-produced Women. The group’s debut was all jittery guitars and angular drums with most singing and layered harmonies buried deep in the mix.

The format hasn’t changed much with Public Strain, keeping all the tension and release yet opting for a less antagonistic blend of noise. None of the songs have the same straightforward-sounding 1960s pop of “Black Rice,” the popular single from the first album which found the band copping bits of early Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, the Zombies, and the Velvet Underground. This album’s subdued by comparison, with many of the songs feeling more atmospheric than in-your-face. Guitarist Pat Flegel described it as “moody” when I talked with him last September. He called it a “walking around type of album,” the kind you listen to with earbuds on the street or alone in your car. “It’s maybe a bit more hypnotic,” he told me, which holds true throughout each of the release’s 11 tracks.

At times, Women’s debut album felt like Geffen-era Sonic Youth; “Shaking  Hand” had a definite “Dirty Boots” feel.  Tracks like “China Steps” and “Drag Open” from Public Strain bring to mind Sonic Youth long-players Confusion Is Sex, Bad Moon Rising, or Evol, but not their more polished major label work. In slowing tempos down somewhat, Women lock into interesting grooves contrasting with what sounds like a winter lullaby on “Venice Lockjaw.”

Like their debut, Public Strain is an album to listen to in its entirety. Women‘s first record was a surprise and one of 2008’s best. Public Strain is easily its equal for 2010. Despite two years’ time having passed between the albums, there was little pre-release hype or hyperbole, just the arrival of another well-crafted pack of tunes. Hopefully it won’t be the last. The band had a blowout onstage in October just as their tour to support the album was getting started, resulting in some canceled tour dates and what appears to be an indefinite hiatus, though nothing’s been stated officially. Hopefully, though, the fact that the band members are all longtime friends – two of whom are brothers – bodes well for Women’s future. We’ll have to wait and see.

Visit: Women | Jagjaguwar
Purchase: Insound | eMusic