Arts album review

Dancing back tears

U.S. Girls delivers equal measures hope and despair in her current album tour

In A Poem Unlimited
U.S. Girls
February 2018

Imagine if Madonna were beamed through that psychedelic prism on the cover of The Dark Side of the Moon and what emerged was a funky, fully-fledged feminist. You’d have a pretty good idea of who Meg Remy is. Following the release of her sixth album under nom de guerre U.S. Girls, Remy is currently touring with Toronto-born fusion collective The Cosmic Range, with whom she collaborated extensively on the album. In A Poem Unlimited, their finished product and the highlight of the tour, imbues the coarse texture of social reality with pop and pathos, a feat only enhanced by its live performance. They play Great Scott in Allston on April 12.

Blending rock, funk, disco, jazz, and unbridled pop, Remy uses the swing and bounce of her music to deliver heartrending poetry. Several of her songs inhabit distinct but similar characters, all deeply wronged by structures or individuals (always, if sometimes vaguely, patriarchal ones) more powerful than themselves: “Rage Of Plastics” tells of a woman rendered infertile by her job at an oil refinery; in “Pearly Gates,” another is coerced into sex with a swaggering St. Peter in exchange for entrance to heaven; “Sororal Feelings” (off her previous album, Half Free) gives voice to a woman whose husband married her only after dalliances with each of her sisters. For such socially-minded narrative content, the lyrics, far from prescriptive, are searching: “Was it the river on fire that made us what we became? / Was it the cup that we drank from, or what it contained? / Does it move to the beat of the oil drums / Or flow out of our eyes as we're wailing?” she sings on the first.

Last week, I had the great fortune — that is to say, the sublime heartbreak — of catching her show in Salt Lake City. The dissonance between the danceable groove of Remy’s music and the tragedy of her lyricism is only heightened in performance. Despite the intimacy of the venue, she didn’t speak a word to the audience all night. Instead, in between songs, Remy would play sound bites of male speakers, remixed to convey messages of ambiguous variance from their original form. “It is encouraging — not to tell women — what to do,” she replayed for us, eyebrow cocked in knowing dissatisfaction, as if to ask, “Must I do it all myself?” At certain key moments, Remy would place herself besides the only other woman onstage, communing with vocalist/guitarist Kassie Richardson in solidarity.

To be transported through Remy’s worldview is to accept the hopelessness of women’s liberation while never ceasing to strive for it. The exuberant sounds of U.S. Girls seduce the listener into the gilded tragedies of her stories even as they provide the bottomless catharsis of dance and the energy to push forward. The show culminated with Remy and Richardson performing a duet to “Poem,” which the record label 4AD dubbed the “emotional core” of the album. “In a poem unlimited we stay / And on a lawless night, lawless night, we wait / Holding our breath, we wait.” Yet the acknowledgement of endless expectation doesn’t for a second temper the earnest call to progress in the final line of the song and the night: “So what are we gonna do to change?”