all words: Phil Runco
all photos: Julian Vu
“We’re called Women. We’re going to play songs now.”
It was an appropriately unassuming start to Women’s Monday night set at DC9. For a band making some of the most compellingly progressive indie-rock (or “post-indie rock indie rock,” if you will) of the past few years, Women don’t have much of a chip on their shoulders. By all accounts – self-deprecating stage banter, an entertaining BYT listening party, keeping company with Chad VanGaalen – the Alberta, Canada foursome appear to be just a genial bunch of guys.
Women’s music reveals their ambitions though. The band channels influences that spread across the past five decades of popular and underground music: The Zombies’ psych pop, Nuggets’ garage rock, Wire’s post-punk, krautrock, Sonic Youth’s no wave, Phil Elvrum’s eerie soundscapes. More impressive than the range itself, Women – much like The Walkmen or Deerhunter –synthesizes the vast swath of influences into a sound that’s unmistakably its own.
It’s a menacing sound. On Monday, serpentine guitars snaked mischievously through “Heat Distraction,” while Patrick Flegel and his brother Mathew droned on ominously about locking their souls away and… who knows what else. Women may sing with one to three voices – the Flegel brothers and guitarist Chris Reimer – but it’s hard to decipher more than the occasional turn of phrase. On record, the indecipherability can be partially attributed to production that buries them low in the mix, sounding as if three rooms away. Live, the vocals were mixed louder, but such a boost was rendered moot, because everything was mixed blisteringly loud.
It’s a fuzzy sound. Every guitar line dripped with reverb. “Drag Valley” barreled out of the gate with an atonal, clanging guitar line before dissolving into sonic abrasion. Elsewhere, Reimer used what looked like a metallic nail file to tweak a dissonant pitch from his guitar. The only thing cutting through the fuzz was Mike Wallace’s drumming. Wallace’s presence was felt viscerally in the mix, every snare hit a wallop, every cymbal crash leaving ears ringing longer into the night.
It’s a melodic sound. Buried underneath this atmosphere and sonics is a strong pop sensibility. From the static “Narrow With the Hall” emerged buoyant bass line that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Supremes record. “Eyesore”, the penultimate song on the night, boasted Women’s strongest vocal performance. It’s the song where the band allows the influence of British Invasion bands to shine brightest, and when Women gives in completely to its pop sensibility on the song’s back half, it’s among the most ethereal moments of the year. Often though, Patrick Flegel dials down warmer vocals in favor of a hymnal drone that recalls Bradford Cox. (Appropriately enough, Cox and the rest of Deerhunter were in attendance on the eve of their performance at the 9:30 Club).
Listening to Women live, you come to understand how all of these elements can exist within the same band, and how the band is becoming better at simultaneously indulging tastes for dissonance and melody. Tellingly, when the band played “Black Rice”, the song from 2008’s Women that garnered Women the most attention it’s received, the band perverted its typically straightforward structure, adding a swelling instrumental midsection and a huge, rattling coda. It was the sound of a band having it’s cake and eating it too.
Complimenting Women on the Bands That Are Impossible to Google Tour was opener DD/MM/YYYY. The band sprawled out from around a single light bulb. The visual simplicity was met with auditory overload. DD/MM/YYYY has one mode, and it is full-blown post-punk freak-out. The band shifted time signatures frequently behind tribal drumming from multiple percussionists. Saxophones and synthy keys joined the party occasionally. With everything topped off with guttural “vocals,” there was a lot of raw energy to be had. Over the course an entire set, that can be a little exhausting. Cool chewed-up cymbal though.