Saturday, February 20, 2021

Women's Public Strain & Other Music: An Interview With Patrick Flegel & Michael Wallace & Show # 870

In September 2010, the Calgary band Women released their second and final album Public Strain. Recorded in the dead of winter in Calgary, Alberta with Chad VanGaalen over a ten-month period, the album sessions were tense. In terms of sound, Public Strain helped identify a voice for the musicians in the band. With comparisons to bands such as Caribou, The Velvet Underground, Deerhoof and Abe Vigoda, Women shaped a sonic depth with their sound that explored elements of post punk with noise rock. It features darker more jarring sounds, while at the same time pop sensibilities lurk beneath. Experimentation also runs deep within this album, while comparisons can be made to other bands, Women often veer off from that moving into unexplored territory. Public Strain creates a certain mood that you can feel with every listen.

“Can’t You See” opens in a haze of guitar feedback as melodic bass from Matthew Flegel plucks its way through the screeching drones, bowed guitars from Chris Reimer, cello and haunting, yet poppy vocals provided by vocalist/guitarist Patrick Flegel. The atmosphere created here is darker, moody and often referred to as a nocturnal ballad. It contrasts pop elements with more dissonant and experimental ones. “Heat Distraction” is the opposite of the opening track. With its bright guitar interplay and deep bass tones that seem to sink below all the instrumentation, this track has several different time signatures that shift from one form to another seamlessly. The drums from Michael Wallace drive this track as Patrick Flegel and guitarist Chris Reimer sing in abstract lyrics such as “Programmed without form/Programmed without sound” and “Austere known your pen/Throats inside of glass/Hanging next to me” that further adds to the mood of this track and album. “Narrow With The Hall” features clouds of feedback with eerie vocals that float on top. 60s sounding bass melodies jump in with marching drums as the guitar feedback switches forms. The harmonies provided by the Flegel’s on this track were compared to bands such as The Zombies while the track was once described in Pitchfork as producing “a unique, gray-paisley vibe-- the sound of vintage psychedelia bleached of its color.”

“Penal Colony” brings in more pop melodies that rise to the surface as ringing guitar, subtle drums and cello rise and fall slowly in the background. This track adds touches of psychedelia as well into the mix. The sounds of The Velvet Underground and Syd Barrett come to mind when hearing this, but it is its own thing. With lyrics such as “Faces start to blend/Meet a sudden end/And you're gone completely/I know that it's hard to go” the song seems to pull from a personal feeling of exile. “Bells” is an instrumental interlude of sorts. It is a drone heavy, noisy ballad that builds tension and ambiance. “China Steps” arrives with drums where you can hear the squeak of the pedal as bass and two opposing guitars attack the sonic air. About halfway through after a heavy song transition, the vocals come in. Drawing comparisons to 80s Sonic Youth, “China Steps” treads through its sonic landscape never afraid to move forward. “Untogether” features unnerving, disorienting melodies with more experimental indie rock sounds, while “Drag Open” is a visceral onslaught of guitar, bass, drums and feedback. The middle section of the song changes pace, like a change of wind direction. As the song slows down, the song builds up tension, mood and trails off in hazy sounds.

The mid-tempo “Locust Valley” arrives next. The memorable guitar melodies float in between the bass and drums. With krautrock dynamics and unmistakable vocal melodies, it moves with urgency. This is also one of two songs that reference American artist Ray Johnson. Johnson was a seminal figure in Neo-dada and Pop Art who was referred to as “New York’s most famous unknown artist”. Locust Valley is the town Johnson lived in New York State. Women also referenced Johnson on their 2008 debut album with their song “Sag Harbor Bridge”, which was the place of Johnson’s death. “Venice Lockjaw” arrives next. Another highlight among the often experimental and noisy post punk sounds found on Public Strain, this song adds further psychedelic, paisley beauty as it contrasts the music with darker lyrics. The term “Venice Lockjaw” once again refers to artist Ray Johnson, who handed out pins with this term at an art exhibition in Venice in 1990.

“Eyesore” ends Public Strain. With jangly guitars, syrupy basslines and compelling drums, this is the longest track on the album. With words such as “Spill and heat consume both of the lights/They were flashing white and ecru pale” and “I just could not/Tell against your will/Give out your number now,” the lyrics evoke a feeling that is open to interpretation (like many moments on the album) that resemble some similarities to the lyrical style of David Bowie’s Low album. Public Strain ends in a fade out. Throughout this album, there is a contrast between noise, dissonance, psychedelia and pop melodies. Each track offers something that sounds new and fresh with each listen. As a whole it creates a mood that surrounds you that is hard to resist. The lyrical content of Public Strain has been described as cycling “through insomnia, paranoia, resignation and euphoria, to capture a band with an undeniable voice coming into full awareness of their craft.” And while the lyrics are often darker and compliment the at times brooding music, Public Strain is more than just a dark record. Throughout the walls of noise and experimentation, there is something hard to define. Even after ten years of its initial release, Public Strain burns with a passion and intensity that is timeless.

Women toured heavily from 2008-2009 prior to Public Strain’s release in support of their 2008 album Women. They also toured in support of Public Strain, but that tour was cut short in October 2010. Following a show that occurred in October 2010 in Victoria BC, Women stopped playing as a band. The band members went their separate ways. Bassist Matthew Flegel and drummer Michael Wallace went on to form the band Viet Cong (before changing their name to Preoccupations), guitarist/vocalist Patrick Flegel would continue creating music eventually creating music as Cindy Lee and Christopher Reimer joined the band The Dodos as their touring guitarist while collaborating and creating music until he passed away in his sleep unexpectedly in 2012. In 2020, Flemish Eye and Jagjaguwar announced a reissue of Public Strain along with an EP of outtakes and rare tracks called Rarities 2007-2010 in celebration of the album’s 10th anniversary.

Grab a copy of Public Strain from Flemish Eye or Jagjaguwar.

Support Patrick Flegel’s latest project Cindy Lee here.

Listen to Revolution Rock interview with Patrick Flegel (of Cindy Lee/Women):

Listen to Revolution Rock's interview with Michael Wallace (of Preoccupations/Women):

Public Strain Playlist (Originally Aired On February 20th, 2020):

1.  Women - Pinky (CBC Radio 3 Session) (CBC Radio 3 Session - January 2010)
2.  Women - Drag Open (Public Strain - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2010)
3.  Women - Locust Valley (Public Strain - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2010)
4.  Women - Bullfight (Live Session) (CJSW Live Session 2010)


5.  Chris Reimer - Mustard Gas (Hello People - Flemish Eye - 2018)
6.  Preoccupations - Pointless Experience (Viet Cong - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2015)
7.  Preoccupations - Zodiac (Preoccupations - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2016)
8.  Cindy Lee - I Want You To Suffer (What's Tonight to Eternity - W.25TH / Superior Viaduct - 2020)
9.  Cindy Lee - Bondage Of The Mind (Cat O' Nine Tails - CCQSK Records - 2020)


10. Chris Reimer - First Cut/TV Water (The Chad Tape - Flemish Eye - 2012)
11. Chris Reimer - Waving Goodbye From A Tree (Hello People - Flemish Eye - 2018)
12. Preoccupations - Unconscious Melody (Cassette - Mexican Summer - 2013/Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2017)
13. Cindy Lee - The Promise of Lonliness (Tatlashea - Isolated Now Waves - 2012)


14. Women - Eyesore (Public Strain - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2010)
15. Women - Penal Colony (Public Strain - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2010)


16. Women - Service Animal (Rarities 2007-2010 - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2020)

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