U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
With In a Poem Unlimited, Meghan Remy's U.S. Girls have created a timeless gem of an album that is about as powerful as pop music can be
A decade ago, Meghan Remy used just a 4-track recorder and a microphone to self-produce a collection of caustic musical ruminations. These eerie, seemingly off-the-cuff pieces felt impossible to grasp in the static surrounding them, but the tension in her voice couldn’t be clearer. Six albums later, Remy is still grappling with that same tension. Now, she uses sparkling pop, detailed compositions and a varied cast of collaborators to suck us in, before the darker side of her work looms over.
In a Poem Unlimited is a stunning look at abuses of power, especially those directed at women from men they trust. On M.A.H., Remy delivers the line: 'We can never know the hands we’re in / Until we feel them grip / Choking off our air supply' as if it’s a lullaby. Her theatrical vocal tumbles over an ABBA-channeling disco instrumental. The buoyant basslines, conga drum-breaks and unabashedly classy melody are irresistible. Your stomach drops as soon as the sinister lyrics flicker through.
It’s a clever stylistic choice that carries through the album – by far the brightest sounding Remy has ever released. Velvet 4 Sale opens it all with a weary sigh, before blossoming with sunny horns and a blistering guitar solo. The bombastic Incidental Boogie makes the loud/quiet dynamic sound fresh, while the enveloping disco of Rosebud could pass for a Kylie instrumental if it wasn’t so damn elegant.
Remy’s vocal control commands it all, with its restraint, with its wild, expressive high-end, and with its mysterious coldness. 'Let’s face it! Admit that it’s all related!' she shouts on Rosebud, beckoning the listener to look inward at their own part in injustice. With a few notes, the album clicks into place. On Pearly Gates, she winds a disturbing satire about a woman who is forced into sex by St Peter to get into heaven, supported by slinky backing vocals that feel plucked from Aquemini. That doesn’t sound like it should work, but Remy’s poise and attention to craft sell the twisted parable completely.
While her previous 4AD release, Half Free, used dreamlike samples to evoke its classic American pop atmosphere, In a Poem Unlimited emulates the real thing. Its instrumentals are timeless, genreless and genderless. This is no mistake. On Time, she repeats 'When there is nothing there is still time / There is still time, mountains of time' while her band race forward. Bleating saxophones, dusty guitars and thrashing symbols gallop on, fusing all the Western glitz of her work into an urgent seven-minute freakout. In a Poem Unlimited lives up to its aim and its name. It’s a reflection of abuse that feels all-encompassing, and of this era. It’s a timeless gem of an album that is about as powerful as pop music can be.
Listen to: Rosebud, Incidental Boogie, M.A.H.