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Photo: U.S. Girls
Photo: U.S. Girls

U.S. Girls Smash Patriarchy

Meg Remy’s deliberate silence early in the U.S. Girls set at Union Stage Sunday night let you know that though she was having fun; she wasn’t fucking around. Remy is U.S. Girls, who are currently touring their sixth record, In a Poem Unlimited. Center stage, silent and dressed in all black, Remy stared back at anyone making a sound.


Side note, Ian Svenonious’ solo act, Escape-ism, opened for U.S. Girls. I first heard about Svenonious and Escape-ism in talking with Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation, (see here). Hilton was talking about bands he loves to see around town and Svenonious was the first thing to come to mind:

“Anything Ian Svenonious does, I love. I just saw Escape-ism at DC9, and I just thought it was brilliant. It’s very esoteric, like a lot of his things are, but it’s awesome.”

He was right. Escape-ism was odd, very 60s performance art, but great. Check out his DC special, “Exorcist Stairs.”


Remy called for this silence after the third or fourth song of the set, (or willed rather, because she didn’t say a thing), before she started singing “Rosebud.” The title is a reference to Citizen Kane, but I like to call it “Finch Song” because of the music video, which shows her partner, Slim Twig, setting free a booty-shaking finch.

Slim Twig and his band, The Cosmic Range, actually joined Remy for the tour, as well as being a background vocalist. The Cosmic Range is a free jazz group based in Toronto, but they were a perfect fit for Remy’s disco-inflected songs. They were also able to play “off-record,” (i.e. not according to the studio recording) to flex Remy’s experimental chops.

Their look lent itself to the more surreal U.S. Girls songs. Alongside Remy and her background singer’s chic black, they looked positively Lynch-ian. The saxophonist played a comically small curved sopranino sax and the keyboard player wore all red, red slacks and red button down, though no tie; he also tended to dance like he was slapping a horse.

The drummer and Slim Twig looked very much the part of “band members.” Slim even looked like he belonged in a group who takes their coffee intravenously. Either way they were sexy; Slim was the ‘sexy garbage’ to the drummer’s ‘sexy hipster.’

Remy’s silence was a recurring note throughout the night. She refused to allow songs to die à la Frankie Cosmos, which is to say slowly and with a whimper, and instead pushed for an end with free jazz flurries, followed by stillness. Again, The Cosmic Range hookup makes sense.

The songs are long and groove. Remy has routinely experimented with countless genres over the years for U.S. Girls.  For In a Poem Unlimited, she dived deep into disco and other early dance music. Lyrically and tonally they’re on another level. Her songs tend to channel the anger of wronged women.

For example, “The Pearly Gates” imagines a woman on her way to heaven who realizes the only way in is through Peter, and Peter is a fucking monster. The song asks if heaven is safe if it’s run by men, and if Remy’s stories were only intelligible to the studied listener, she left no room for ambiguity on her position when she paused the set another time; she played a sample of someone saying “I strongly encourage you not to tell women what to do.”

She let the sample run several times, nodding toward the audience, before moving to the next.

As the show went on, the performance became more unhinged. If the first several songs were christian baby making music, then the latter were more chimera-child making music. The groove moved to a sort of slink, and you almost felt as if the band had forgotten the audience. Remy, her background vocalist and the keyboardist were dancing around one another, and you felt they might tear each other’s clothes off. But if they were to fuck, the rest of the band would probably only stare glassy-eyed.

For the encore, only Remy came back onstage. She told the audience “there are no encores in life” and dropped the microphone. For more on U.S. Girls follow them on Twitter, and for more on Remy, check out her Instagram. Find In a Poem Unlimited wherever you get your music.

Photo: múm's Facebook page
Photo: múm's Facebook page

múm on a Sunday Night

The shot that captured the night was the slow but persistently waving Icelandic flag. Some lone fan leaned against the stage, and waved the flag like the turtle from Robin Hood – that is, gently and unfaltering.

múm played for a sparse but appreciative crowd Sunday night at 9:30 Club. The Icelandic collective, best known for tracks like “Green Grass of Tunnel” and “We Have a Map of the Piano” makes down-tempo, experimental electronic music inflected with acoustic instruments.

Last night, these acoustic instruments included a cello, which Gyða Valtýsdóttir plays standing, and a water jug used as a drum. The group was a little pretentious and, begrudgingly, I loved it.

They opened with “Sveitin milli Sólkerfa,” a track that – like the two aforementioned tracks – is off of their second record, Finally We Are No One. The song’s a 12-minute slow burn, and it was their strongest of the night. The glitchy, building beats along with Valtýsdóttir and Sigurlaug Gísladóttir’s voices feel like a call to the new communion.

Örvar Smárason spoke for the band that night. His banter was amusing but never clownish, much like the band; they’re cool, but toe-the-line dull.

“I’m going to play a special apparatus now called a synthesizer,” he told the audience, a line he’d also used during their KEXP performance.

He also made some rehearsed jokes about how it’s now “bikini weather” in DC. I’m sure nothing is cold like Iceland, but it’s f–king freezing out. Though if you want to wear a bikini, Örvar, be my guest.

A Little Bit, Sometimes” was the most energetic track of the night, from their 2006 record Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy; it sounds like a really cool cover of “Hotel California” that Yann Tiersen helped arrange.

Much of their music actually reminds me of Tiersen. It plays on the same tropes of eclectic instruments, modal changes and a subdued aesthetic. Like Tiersen, they had a strong record in the early aughts and have since continued to make music from that capital.

For Tiersen, that record was L’Absente (2001), which was famously used for the movie Amélie (2001). For múm, that record was Finally We Are No One (2001). Since then, múm has continued to make music in a similar vein, but I’m sure only a deeply invested fan could tell me why they keep coming back to it.

Since Finally We Are No One, their music doesn’t sound much different, but it has little of that initial verve. Still, I envy what they do, and still, I enjoyed their performance. The crowd was small and quiet, but genuinely enthusiastic in their applause after each song.

I probably wouldn’t go see múm live again if I had the chance, but I’m sure they’ll continue to come up in my work-related listening. Follow múm on Twitter to learn of upcoming performances, and check out their KEXP performance for further listening.

Photo: Courtesy of MCT Management
Photo: Courtesy of MCT Management

Joe Purdy Brings Protest Song to The Hamilton

In these days when #protestisthenewbrunch in DC, there couldn’t be a better time for folk rock musician Joe Purdy to come to town. An Arkansas native, Purdy has been a significant and often underrated figure on the American folk revival scene for a decade and a half, and has put out a new release almost every year since his debut in 2001 (way before the genre’s coolness got, well, revived).

Tonight, Purdy brings his guitar, suspenders, shaggy beard and deep, gravelly voice to The Hamilton, where he’ll be promoting his latest record, Who Will Be Next? Fitting to the times, the album diverts slightly from the style of his previous work, which combines the best elements of blues, ballad and rock – to draw more directly from traditional American protest songs.

With Who Will Be Next?, Purdy has written an album that satisfies his “determination to honor the giants of American folk” like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, while “addressing immediate transgressions” experienced and witnessed by many Americans in recent years.

Rhett Miller, lead singer of the alt-country band the Old 97’s, will join Purdy onstage at The Hamilton. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20-$39.75.

The Hamilton: 600 14th St. NW, DC; 202-787-1000; www.live.thehamiltondc.com