Album Review: U.S. Girls – Half Free

By Donovan Burtan

The music video for Window Shades carries its viewer into a world of Twilight Zone looking classic film samples looping and skipping, culminating in a dark, demented world of cool eeriness perfectly resembling the music of the project.  Through the use of unpredictable samples, unique beats, and haunting vocals, U.S. Girls venture into a chilling, desolate soundscape in a fresh, subtle way.  The music of Half Free is quite different from that of Meg Remy’s both distant and recent past, however, she has not lost track of her roots and the end result is a risky yet logical album pleasing to the ears of new and old fans of the band.

Color is a surprisingly important aspect to the music of U.S. Girls. All of the visuals associated with the new album are masses of lush gray, black and white directly correlating to the aesthetic of the music.  Every note has this cool quality to it.  Nothing stands out as a bright synth or over-the-top electronic sound and the vocal phrasing and lyricism of Remy contribute to the accomplishment of coolness.  The line “I’m gonna hang myself from a family tree” is especially dark and floats to the listener in a careful, droning way resulting in a chilling, emotional affect.  The darkness in the sound finds subtly and minimalism rather than intensity and destruction.

The addition of a band to Remy’s live set up has changed her sound quite a bit.  Half Free lacks some of the electronic experimentation and free flowing vocals of Remy’s younger years and drifts a bit more towards the realm of structured pop or indie songwriting.  This new songwriting approach is most apparent on the song Sed Knife.  Without knowing the context of the album or the ensemble, this song comes across as a somewhat standard rock song.  The drums are tight and the guitars rip and roll around like a Dead Weather creation and this playing has influenced songwriting decisions throughout the album.  Songs like Sororal Feelings and Window Shades find a much stronger vocal presence than the music of Introducing, Go Grey or even Gem and they also find a stronger verse and chorus structure.  When combined with Remy’s electronic mastery, this new defined song structure adds a sense of familiarity to her out-of-the-box sound.

Despite all the changes to her setup and song structure, Meg Remy has stayed true to herself and the music of her past and this album can be seen as a positive evolution for her.  Half Free is a truly fantastic record that carries influence from many different genres and sound approaches.  It can be seen as both a fun album and an intriguing musical experiment, which is why it has found so much success on the CKUT charts in the past couple weeks.