(Flemish Eye; 2008)

By Scott Reid | 24 July 2008

From the gracious desks of Flemish Eye, the label that some five years ago gave us Chad VanGaalen’s debut, Infiniheart (much love), comes one of this year’s biggest surprises: Women, a confrontationally great indie-slash-post-rock/folk/”noise”/ambient/so-much-else debut that was “recorded on ghettoblasters and old tape machines,” and is still, somehow, easy to burrow inside and adore for every stubborn quirk. And, uh, it involves Chad VanGaalen (the liner notes are vague as to the particulars). Go figure.

But how to properly approach something like this? As a critic I suppose I really should dive headfirst, detailing a near-scientific proof of what makes this record worth every percent of that hefty, and somewhat arbitrary, rating. But as a fan of this record first and foremost, knowing that what makes it so endlessly enjoyable in no way requires charts and/or graphs (fun as they can be), I’d rather keep this simple and get my dichotomy on: pare this shit down to some simple zeroes-and-ones. What Women is, what it isn’t.

IS: At its own pace, in its own way, the best “indie rock” record released this year. Hands down. Despite:

ISN’T: An indie rock record.

IS: Too interesting for that. They flirt with it (the serpentine Joggers-esque guitar breakdowns of “Shaking Hand” immediately comes to mind) but it’s one creative well of many—some beautifully tense, others downright filthy. By their very nature, though, it’s the band’s most accessible traits, peeking gleefully from behind the lo-fi stratosphere, that can’t help but define this record on those first bewildering listens. Best example is “Black Rice,” which Flemish Eye is very generously hosting for free. So though I’ll point out how much I love those chorus vocals and the bass-n-chimes breakdown, all of it encased in muddled remnants of 12 Rods’ Gay? EP (1996), I’ll hold back my enthusiasm. Download it now, feel it for yourself. This review’s got nothing but time.

ISN’T: All like “Black Rice.” Which, if you did actually just take time out to hear it, may seem like the worst move ever. But I swear that’s not really bad news, since:

IS: Full of songs as compelling as “Black Rice,” in their own ways. “Group Transport Hall” unfolds like a lost gem from Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House (2006), 71 tightly wrapped seconds of chanting folk-isms and insistent chimes that flitter away into the back-to-back mind-fuck of “Shaking Hand”/”Upstairs.” Even better is “Lawncare,” equal parts Sung Tongs (2004) and The Glow, Pt. 2 (2001), with sighing harmonies and long bursts of cluttered noise blissfully free-floating around looping guitar. But, and I must stress this, this incomplete list of individual triumphs is limiting since this is very much an Album at heart, a carefully crafted experience meant to be taken as a whole. Suppress that mp3 mentality for the time it’d take you to watch, I dunno, The Colbert Report, if you absolutely need to; indulge that inner Album geek.

ISN’T: Aimless or overly ambitious. Creatively verbose, if you will. Which is surprising, since this is an extremely young band, for one, but moreso: with VanGaalen playing the Michael Gira to their still-mysterious-enough-to-be-potentially-Great Akron/Family, one could expect Women to chase its own tail into epic proportions, like some of his own exhaustingly tangential works. Or Akron/Family (2005) even, since I’m bringing them up—though while both records eschew songwriting/arranging convention to both throttle and tickle their listener’s imagination, Women can also be the anti-A/Fam, at least in terms of structure and scope and the way it avoids devastating prog/hippie tendencies. The thrilling sense that this could lead almost anywhere is intact, but rest assured, there isn’t a “Love and Space” in sight.

IS: Co-recorded anyway—in a basement, an outdoor culvert, and a crawlspace…seriously—so let’s not overplay Chad’s role, regardless of how many homemade instruments he may or may not be anonymously icing this record with. (Fun game, though, kinda like the super-indie Where’s Waldo: I say that’s definitely him perking up “Cameras” with those Casio lines.) In fact, the band tackled “Woodbine,” “January 8th,” and “Flashlights,” the record’s most visceral ambient/noise bents, on their own. Chad clearly knows how to properly mold and focus this band’s potential in very key ways, no question, but it’s when left to their own devices that they birth their most unpredictable and chaotic material.

ISN’T: For Dave “Boogz” Greenwald, half of CMG’s indie-pop contingent, even he’s totally in love with VanG. “Wish it was more memorable,” he says. But then he loved Liars (2007) too, so who knows what’s going on.

IS: Better than Liars.

ISN’T: Actually anything like Liars. But any way you want to make the two compete, Women wins. Roll them both down a hill, this record will blaze past it.

IS: Currently charming the shit out of the rest of our staff. And that usually only ever happens with, like, Clipse or Wolf Parade records. (Or, hey, Devin Davis, we miss ya.) Which I bring up merely to stress this record’s broad appeal, the way it can unite even this crotchety group of curmudgeon groaners. Boogz…well, he’s wrong. He’ll come around.

Once that initial “I dunno, a couple of these songs are good but it’s kinda rough…” quickly transitions into an overwhelming “holy shit this entire thing is amazing,” it’s off: you’ll take on this band’s brain-melting, unrefined spectrum at once, eat up every delicious second, maybe even give it a bear-hug when you’re alone, all the while wishing it’d go on much longer than its EP-toeing thirty minutes. If you still need more bait, here:

…and boy are the other eight tracks worth your thirteen bucks.