U.S. Girls - Gem

Instead of playing up to the conventions associated with golden-age retro pop, U.S. Girls turn them on their head and not just for the sake of it.

Label: FatCat Records

Rating: 8

If only for the fact that it has been such well-trodden ground, Meghan Remy’s solo project, U.S. Girls, arrives as a welcome reinvention of the 60s baroque pop of the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las. It’s understandable why this golden era has made its resurgence into the popular music of today: even the most uninspired and unsuccessful efforts to recreate it manage to sound pleasantly listenable. There’s a paradoxically calculated purity that seems to appeal to people’s subconscious longing for an age where everything is simpler and uncomplicated, and on some level, it always works. But how do you stand out in a genre where so much output ends up being ‘nice enough’ over time? Kill it, bleed its beauty dry and then slow-dance deliriously with the besmirched corpse. Well that’s U.S. Girls’ approach, and as a result, ‘GEM’ is nothing short of spellbinding.

As embodied by the album’s stunning opener, the languid ‘Another Colour’, U.S. Girls’ take on golden era pop throughout ‘GEM’ is to douse glistening, retro-sounding ballads in buckets of acid, corroding all the polish off each note, exposing its raw nerves. Remy’s tortured but snarling warble often finds itself accompanied by walls of buzzsaw guitars (the swaggering ‘Slim Baby’), demented glam harpsichords (‘Work From Home’), stomping, discordant pianos (‘Jack’) and diffuse synth pulses (the demented ‘Rosemary’) and the results are nothing short of compelling as U.S. Girls’ flay their skin, both aesthetically and emotionally.

In particular, ‘Jack’, ‘GEM’s’ centrepiece and probably not so surprisingly, a noted source of obsession for Remy, epitomises the disconcertingly topsy-turvy nature of the album. Sung from the perspective of Jack the Ripper, Remy’s helplessly pained vocals sound like they’re melting off their hinges as they comes up against an acid cloud of a deceptively sinister piano melody. As the song gradually exposes itself, it reveals the glowing embers of a classic structure being used as the vehicle for revealing some disturbing desires. Where Danava’s version (the initial object of Remy’s obsession) sounds quite obviously sick, U.S. Girls’ sounds like someone mourning their lost innocence, while in a state of mind warped by trauma. There’s something so innately engrossing about observing someone who has become twisted by their own wounds.

Such is ‘GEM’s’ charm. Instead of playing up to the conventions associated with golden-age retro pop, U.S. Girls turn them on their head and not just for the sake of it. Playing with the formula not only makes Remy’s twisted sound infinitely more interesting, it makes her stories of heartbreak, hard luck and desire, far more resonant too. It’s this tortured beauty that makes ‘GEM’ an unassumingly fascinating record that is both acidic, and acid-stained, but addictive in its entirety.