Women’s Public Strain is one of my favorite releases of all time, combining nostalgic pop perfectionism with cold and cutting Post-Punk and Noise Rock. The resulting bittersweet taste is one of the most cathartic musical experiences I’ve had. When I looked at the album art of Public Strain after the context of this project and the stellar-to-middling output of Preoccupations, I have gained new meaning. What I see in that album art is really a combination of these two splinter groups. Past the film grain of the picture is scene of a cold and harsh environment hitting some city streets. This is in my mind is what Preoccupations ended up being in relation to Women. Like on their then self-titled debut Viet Cong, a vision of a concrete Post-Punk reality is put on display. The film grain, the atmosphere of the album art and the Women sound itself, is the embodiment or rather soul of the project. After listening to What’s Tonight to Eternity several times, I think I have landed on the sound of Cindy Lee being the resulting spirit split from the body (Preoccupations) from the whole of the being (Women). It’s a bit of a heady take on the fallout of the Flegel brothers but I think the music speaks for itself. What’s Tonight to Eternity is a restless spirit caught in purgatory between 60s girl groups and the grasp of some otherworldly being. This harsh and somber duality is expressed so masterfully and has made me gain a whole new appreciation for all aspects surrounding Women and their split.
From the album’s start with “Plastic Raincoat”, I can’t help but think of the “lady in the radiator” scene from David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Even though the track coincidentally shares it’s name with the opening track of Hypnagogic Pop god Ariel Pink’s Pom Pom, this is executed in an entirely different dimension, both in style and seriousness. The the reverb is heavy and the instrumentation is very distant and faded. The only spotlight, clearing through the darkness, is on Patrick’s drag alter-ego singing. I love that plenty of times on this album, the instrumentation really only has a shadow of itself, being functional but not too present as to take away from the atmosphere it all combines amongst itself to create. Quickly after a somber tune we enter “I Want You To Suffer”. The sticcato picking of a harp kicks the track off before the drums and super-sharp synths hit, expanding into a jaunty tune. This is followed by what can only be described as a Harsh Noise passage. The second half of the track following this is a repeat of the first, albeit with a feeling of exhaustion. This is no longer an upbeat sounding tune, but one where the band has lost it’s will. This parallel songwriting on this track, a warm and cold framing of the noise passage, is one of my favorite moments of the album. We get some relaxation with the next track “The Limit”, what I can only describe as wet. The reverb is so amazingly heavy in here, warbling the sound like viewing a cave on the other side of a clear waterfall. I just love this slow and beautiful ballad being played here. The strings coming in at the halfway mark bring such a beautiful melody. Following this is what I can only describe as an inter-dimensional portal. Spacey synths fluctuate and transform, bending you to their shape. It’s almost like falling through a time portal to the next track, “One Second To Toe The Line”. A crunchy and trebley guitar riff and toy piano interact to create a Motown type beat. The chorus amplifies supremely into quarter-note snare, bass, and piano that ends in a somber reflective post-chorus.
The second half of the album beings with what is ultimately the highlight of the album, “Lucifer Stand”. On one hand there is the remarkably Pop portion of the track. The steady synth and bass shuffling causing my head to bop back and forth. The drums are definitely still performing their function, but are so distant as to almost not even feel like drums anymore. Cutting synths infiltrate the mix spectacularly as the ghostly vocals of Cindy Lee continue on. The track begins to fade away around the five minute mark to start a vocal sampling of an interview regarding a woman’s spiritual experience with the devil. By six minutes only the drums are left and the music ends shortly after. Her encounter with the devil sounds extremely real and emotional, a really impactful addition to the track. The interview cuts in the middle of the monologue and swiftly changes to the next track “Speaking From Above”, with harsh guitar interacting with what is a quaint Dream Pop track being concealed underneath. That cut shocked me the first time I heard it and really adds to this album’s spiritual mystique. The instant cut to noise in the middle of speech almost had me concerned for her well-being, as if the devil was retaliating to her standing up to him. Later on is “Just For Loving You I Pay The Price”, one of the most beautiful Dream Pop tracks I have ever heard. The deep and low synths and vocal layering saturated with reverb are extremely stark. The way the synths enter each ear and start interacting with one another in the mix are really spectacular. Melodically this is one of my favorite pieces on the album, I get such a lighter-than-air feeling without the percussion grounding it. Finally we reach the closing track, “Heavy Metal”. The lyrics are as sweet as the intro guitar passage, an ode to the late Chris Reimer, a former bandmate in Women. “When the world took you away from me; When we met you buried deep in my heart; Heavy metal”. A heavy weight on Patrick’s heart. The songwriting here is fantastic, give this some shine and you get a classic girl group track from the 60s. Thank god this whole album didn’t do that though or else it’s meaning, it’s impact, and it’s stellar experimentation wouldn’t amount to anything.
From the musical experiences I have had from Women, Preoccupations, and now Cindy Lee I can now say that I now have some amazing context around this family tree of amazing releases in the past ten years. The pop songwriting on this album is only rivaled in context by what appears on Public Strain, and even with that in mind this channels a ghostly aura that sets it apart from the pack. Overall I love the layers of harsh noise, the lovely pop tunes hiding under layers and layers of reverb, and the ethereal atmosphere than prevails throughout the whole album. I hope after listening to all of them again you begin to see that Cindy Lee and this project in particular really are the soul of Women. The interaction between this ghostly nostalgic soul and the harsh and stark Post-Punk reality of Preoccupations, at least with my math, add up to unfortunately short-lived Women. If you couldn’t already tell, I love this album. It is one of the most unique listens I have had in a long time, especially while it was a fresh release. If anything having the context of the Flegel family tree of music only aided my understanding and adoration for this collection of tracks. If you are down for something a little out of left-field, some harshenss for sure but some grounding in amazing songwriting and texture, give this one a try as soon as you can.