To say that Women‘s self-titled debut album showed some promise is something of an understatement. Granted, at times, it was a bit messy, a little bit confused, but it also contained some staggeringly good songs. ‘Black Rice’, for example, was surely one of the best singles of the past decade. Unfortunately that one song was so good that it tended to stand-out like a sore thumb over everything else on the album. If you managed to get past that fact, and stuck with the record however, it was clear that if Women managed to condense their influences and pull themselves in a little tighter then they could produce something truly special indeed…
As album-opening tracks go it’s pretty safe to say that ‘Can’t You See’ is probably one of the less-immediate that you’ll hear this year. The first minute-and-a-half is simply a wall of noise with some, almost indecipherable, vocals thrown in for good measure. Then a couple of minutes in and suddenly the sun breaks through the clouds and the song is flooded with a beautiful, completely unexpected, string section before the wall-of-noise and guitar feedback again takes over for the remainder of the track.
It’s challenging, intoxicating, almost hypnotic and, on first listen, it’s almost too much to take in. However, before you can think too much about it ‘Heat Distraction’ kicks in with a guitar part so joyous and full of colour that you’re left gaping open-mouthed at your stereo, wondering just how nobody ever came up with it before.
And that, in essence, is Public Strain. It’s an album of real contrasts. Just when you think a track is about to collapse in on itself it’s redeemed at the last moment by a guitar part or a chord change that just melts your heart. Take ‘Bells’ for example, a three minute track which descends into what is, essentially, white noise but which is followed by the guitar-strut of ‘China Steps’ which is almost Sonic Youth-like in its delivery.
I’m sure many reviews for Public Strain will go through the record track by track with a fine-tooth comb but, to my mind at least, there really doesn’t seem much point. Its one of those old-fashioned records where each track perfectly flows in to the next that it doesn’t seem right to pull it apart. You really need to just sit back and let it wash over you. In fact, it’s hard to think of any album since Kid A that has created such a completely unique sound; where each song seems so perfectly-crafted for its place on the record that it really couldn’t exist anywhere else.
A perfect example of this comes with the albums closing trio of tracks. Take Locust Valley or Venice Lockjaw out of its place on the record and they certainly wouldn’t work as well as they do as a lead-up to the epic, and simply stunning, finale of Eyesore. If the albums opening track was something of a struggle to get through then Eyesore is its polar opposite. A perfect culmination of everything that comes before it on the record, its six-and-a-half minutes of pure bliss and one of the best pieces of guitar music I’ve heard in a long, long time.
So there you have it. It’s difficult to put my finger on what it is exactly that makes Public Strain so damn good, but something about it just sits right with me. Allow youself to spend some time with it and you’ll find that Women have created a bold, brave and brilliant record; if there is a better one released this year I’ll be very suprised indeed.