Enabled by the wide platform of social media, today’s activism can feel performative. Whether it’s Beyoncé with an enormous “Feminist” set piece behind her at the 2014 VMAs, or Taylor Swift preaching the female friendship gospel, most musicians are, at minimum, trying to join the discourse. And while talking the politics talk can be risky for your bottom line, walking the walk is much harder.
In a Poem Unlimited, the sixth studio album from U.S. Girls is unrelenting, taking a critical eye to sexism, capitalism, and the inherent violence spawned by both. On the indie pop project from Meg Remy, the dance floor is littered with the bodies of anyone complicit.
For most politically driven performers, this side of the establishment, a handful of things are still off limits. Aside from Anohni’s provocative “Drone Bomb Me,” Barack Obama has avoided most major derision from the indie crowd. Remy doesn’t hold back though, and on “M.A.H.” (an acronym for “Mad As Hell”), she gives us a disco take down of the former President’s dubious love of technology.
Obama is not the only one caught in the crosshairs. The patriarchy, en masse, is under fire. In a Poem Unlimited’s first track, “Velvet 4 Sale,” is a breathy, Serge Gainsbourg-style chanson, where Remy flips his typically predatory lyrics on their head. Remy tells a story of women taking revenge on men (“Instill in them the fear that comes with being prey”). The contrast of her ultra-feminine vocals against the masculine violence she calls for is clever. It’s the same bait-and-switch she suggests with the line, “Act like you got some velvet for sale / Then, you destroy their hope for deliverance.”
St. Peter is painted as a serial sexual abuser in “Pearly Gates,” a funky organ jam. “Rage of Plastics” takes on the decidedly unsexy topic of industrialization as a women’s issue. The chemical ravaged landscape mirrors women barren from contamination. It’s heavy, but bops along to swaggering guitars. The contentious lyrics are far from in your face; there is something sly to being so provocative while so catchy.
Musically, the album is filled with surprises. It’s full of strong pop singles, stylistically ranging from flirty dance to electroclash punk. But, as with all U.S. Girls albums to date, it’s not simply an easy listen. Her clear-eyed evaluations of an unkind world obsessed with power are full of violence and vitriol. “Incidental Boogie,” exemplifies the tension perfectly—gyrating rock, breathless vocals, and an unflinching portrait of domestic abuse.
On an album of top 40 melodies and dance jams, the format is accessible, but the thesis is more cerebral. The anger and activism are in her words, and she is taking no prisoners. And as Howard Beale shouts in Network, when he beseeches his audience to get “mad as hell”—“Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!”
Notable Tracks: “Incidental Boogie” | “Rage of Plastics” | “Velvet 4 Sale”