Hailing from the burgeoning music scene in Calgary, Alberta, Women’s 2008 self-titled debut impressively harmonized tunes the likes of the Velvet Underground, Pavement, and the Zombies on a boombox like outback wilderness to deliver a well-received album. Recorded with fellow Calgary native Chad VanGaalen, its lo-fi quality was in part cultivated by an interesting blend of recording spaces, apparently ranging from a crawlspace to a culvert. Patrick Flegel, Matt Flegel, Chris Reimer, and Michael Wallace have returned with much of the same bravado to hammer out their second album, Public Strain, out September 28 on Flemish Eye. While their first album smashed nostalgic good vibrations with a ravaging brashness, Public Strain takes a few steps away from this juxtaposition, focusing on a heavier, darker sound.
Women often shift tempo to create dynamic highs and lows within individual songs. ‘China Steps’ opens with urgency then mellows into a gentle close. ‘Drag Open’ delivers similarly; a crash of guitars burst out of the gate and trot to the finish. Contrasting these more aggressive moments are the softer ‘Penal Colony’ and the minimalist ‘Bells’, which blends an electronic sea with distant operatic church bells. The Beach Boys vibe from the debut is not lost on Public Strain, as evidenced by ‘Eyesore’, a smooth tapestry of 1960s Venice Beach with a Canadian roughness, a trend appearing in several young bands.
Those unfamiliar with Women’s style may have to listen with patience as the harsher guitars often overpower the vocals, requiring several replays to catch the lyrics. While Public Strain is more cohesive than Women, the album as a whole will still be difficult for the average radio listener to appreciate. Nevertheless, it is a solid round two for the group and will be perking a few ears very soon.