U.S. Girls bring angst to the dance floor on ‘In a Poem Unlimited’
On U.S. Girls’s sixth full-length album, the project finds a sonic balance, a beautiful conglomeration of sounds spanning multiple genres and personalities. U.S. Girls’ brand of electropop is more integrated and well-rounded on this release than ever before. Jazz, disco, and funk are all blended to help shape this project’s ever-growing sound. Thematically, the record deals with typical problems that women face in 2018. Lyrically, the record is fierce and defiant. Instrumentally however, that same angst and confidence seems lacking.
U.S. Girls make liberal use of genre blending
In reviewing In A Poem Unlimited it’s not hard to bear witness to frontwoman Meghan Remy’s influences. While no song on this record sounds like a carbon copy of another artist, there are several obvious parallels. The synth-ridden, accessible textures and relatable vocals of “M.A.H.” reek of early Madonna, halfway between the CBGB Madonna and the MTV Madonna. The gritty, almost spoken-word delivery of “Incidental Boogie” is reminiscent of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea-era P.J. Harvey, possibly a musician that Remy is trying to emulate. “L-Over,” one of the most sensual and texturized cuts off the record, synthetically feels like an English-language version of an Air track. Finally, there’s “Poem,” whose atmospheric synths and reverbed vocals go hand-in-hand with Visions-era Grimes.
Remy makes a very concerted effort to experiment with new genres on this record. “Pearly Gates” finds Remy pushing into the funk world and even slightly into the hip-hop genre from a percussive standpoint. Remy even takes the record to the lounge on “Rage of Plastics,” a jazzy high-brow track that sounds more exotic than bizarre.
All of these influences and genre skipping haven’t yielded many awkward or ineffective tracks though. Many times when someone so boldly attempts to blend new styles into their music they come off sounding disrespectful or they make something that sounds devoid of their original essence. This wasn’t a problem for Remy, as it’s clear that she made a concerted effort to balance new tropes with her own strengths.
Let the record show, though, that the best song on the LP, “Rosebud,” is the most U.S. Girls song on the album. On this track, U.S. Girls’ traditional strengths and song structures are realized with minimal alterations. Those alterations come in the form of more discrete beats and atmospheric vocals, which were few and far between on earlier material.
Remy’s vocals are a humbling lesson in moderation
Earlier in Remy’s career her music was more lo-fi, dramatically dominated by either the vocal or instrumental. On this record though, Remy’s vocals are much more effectively mixed and level with the backing instrumentation. “Rosebud” is a perfect example of this more effective production. If Remy’s vocals were louder and even more present on this track “Rosebud” would be too obnoxious and over-the-top. However, if Remy’s vocals were quieter then the song would seem amateurish and depersonalized.
The record also effectively uses reverb and atmospherics. “Velvet 4 Sale” finds Remy’s vocals hovering just beneath the clouds. The dictated synthetic-ness of “M.A.H.” forces Remy’s voice to be more rhythmic and complementary to her instrumentation, both things she accomplishes marvelously.
The only issue vocally on the record is on “Rage of Plastics.” The song’s jazzy ethos isn’t matched perfectly by Remy. Her voice is just a tad bit too produced and echoed for a song that fuses elements of jazz and funk.
A distinctly 2018 album
Thematically, In a Poem Unlimited acts as the pulse of many Millennial women today. The 11 tracks deal with subjects as mundane as infidelity and aging, while also commenting on darker matter like sexual assault and religious disenfranchisement. Remy’s vocals on their own help paint these somewhat biographical motifs with enough grace and grit. However, the overall juxtapositions truly hammer home the album’s meaning. Routinely throughout the album Remy’s vocal tone doesn’t align with the mood of the instrumentation, creating a noticeable divide representative of today’s society.
On “Velvet 4 Sale”, the album’s lead woman tells the story of a massively disloyal significant other and the effect that his infidelity has on our protagonist. Vocally, Remy plays the role of the protagonist’s thoughts, her worries, her highs and lows and even her darker and more carnal thoughts. Meanwhile, the synths and production paint a more measured, nondescript picture. The synths represent the protagonist’s external image, and what the outside world sees. As the song progresses, Remy ruminates on more abrasive action toward this wayward lover, culminating in her advising someone to kill their own lover to learn from her mistakes. The synths still maintain their easygoing manner, transforming the feel of this song to Pennywise the Dancing Clown levels of creepiness.
A big concept on this record is internal struggle vs. external image. On the whole Remy tells that still in 2018, as a woman you are expected to bottle up any emotions that are counter to the status quo, no matter how much they eat at you.
“Rosebud” deals directly with the male-dominated social scape today. On this track Remy forces us to admit that pop culture, the news, and the financial world are still disproportionately male-leaning today. It is an obvious allusion to the famed Orson Welles film, a film that at its release lived in a world that suffered from the same disproportions as today.
“Velvet 4 Sale”
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