The music of U.S. Girls: Radical feminism, LINGUA IGNOTA and sexual violence

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This article includes references to sexual assault and sexual violence that may be troubling to some readers.

An artist of many talents, Meghan Remy is releasing a book today titled “Begin by Telling,” an experimental memoir that, as our own Lily Nilipour writes, reckons with trauma and abuse through a rebuilding of memory, a sequential stacking atop oneself that burdens and frees all at once. Remy writes that these experiences “will always hurt,” but also, that the pain “is temporary.” This oxymoron starts to make sense when you remember that someday, we will all be cosmic waste floating in a sea of stars. 

“Soon enough me and the United States of America will be dust.” This statement, which comes near the end of “Begin by Telling,” contains political dimensions that are not to be ignored. Indeed, one might suspect as much when remembering that Meg Remy’s Toronto-based solo music project is called U.S. Girls (thus creating a certain resonance with the aforementioned statement’s dismissal of any long-term significance of the country below our feet). One might suspect even more when recalling U.S. Girls’ long and storied discography, which has long expressed a combination of nausea and rage in response to sexual violence, capitalist pigs and other despicable things.

It all started with “Introducing” (2008), a debut that mainly owes its artistic successes to ambient drone music and lo-fi/slacker rock classics alike. We come from the wordless, melody-less vibrations of the opening track of “Introducing,” ironically called “National Anthem,” to the present day, where U.S. Girls has released seven albums, the latest being the widely celebrated “Heavy Light” from 2020. According to a Samuel Beckett quote about “a cat’s flux” that Remy cites as inspiring “Heavy Light,” all repeats endlessly, like the ouroboros. Perhaps that is the position we find ourselves in. Remy’s latest work shines through with artifacts from a storied past of lo-fi sounds that are far off and distant juxtaposed with lyrics whose ferocious quality cannot be denied.

2018 brought us U.S. Girls’ sixth album, titled “In A Poem Unlimited.” This was a remarkable success for Remy; “In A Poem Unlimited” garnered significant critical acclaim and popular attention, with the album receiving Pitchfork’s coveted “Best New Music” designation, a spot on the shortlist for the 2018 Canadian Polaris Music Prize, an 87 out of 100 on Metacritic and the honor of being Exclaim!’s top pop or rock album of 2018. The album opens with audible heavy breaths over percussion on the track “Velvet 4 Sale” that speaks of violence against men as restitution for an eternity of sexual assaults. “Instill in them the fear that comes with being prey,” Remy sings in reverb over bitcrushed guitars, horns and tumbling bass. When comparing this to the track “Jack” from Remy’s 2012 album “Gem,” it becomes clear that Remy has moved away from letting a static-y haze obscure her songwriting in her current work. But the production quality of certain instruments on “In A Poem Unlimited” demonstrates that Remy hasn’t forgotten how to use relentlessly compressed sounds (such as the saxophone on the next track, “Rage of Plastics”) to create maximum impact. Thus, the past is the future, and vice versa.

That same year, Kristin Hayter, a Rhode Island-based musician recording under the artist name LINGUA IGNOTA, re-released her album “All Bitches Die” through Profound Lore Records. The next year, she released the album “CALIGULA.” The response was explosive, and certainly this must have scared the patriarchy in at least some capacity, considering that the tracks were titled “F*CKING DEATHDEALER” and “IF THE POISON WON’T TAKE YOU MY DOGS WILL” and also “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR” and “BUTCHER OF THE WORLD.” Does this scare you, too? In this way, perhaps Hayter is accomplishing what Remy was reluctant to fully adopt; in a personal statement released to the press alongside “In A Poem Unlimited,” Remy says, “Men are lucky. Women (and children) have yet to take up arms. And although I hope this never happens and I completely disagree that violence is ever effective, this very idea was ripe for a song.” Clearly, Kristin is not afraid of a bloody revolution. Whether either of these positions is the “right one” escapes the scope of this article, but it must be said that Hayter and Remy share a particular genealogy in terms of thinking here, the surely mutual belief that men might deserve what’s coming to them.

Hayter’s music is orchestral and vast. On tracks like “FRAGRANT IS MY MANY FLOWER’D CROWN,” Hayter sounds out a chant via choir, and maybe the choir is made up entirely of her voices (this would be, of course, accomplished in production). The album has been termed part of the “neoclassical darkwave” genre, so-called because of its connection to orchestral music and the gothic-inspired somewhat-electronic darkwave genre. Remy’s music is certainly not this. It primarily draws from conventions of contemporary indie rock music, with a backing band of a drum kit, a bass, a guitar, etc., and Remy’s albums are typically deemed “art pop.” In this way, Remy reaches certain audiences better than Hayter, but also, Remy is able to accomplish certain emotional feats that Hayter fundamentally cannot. This is, again, not to say one is better than the other, but to note the relationship between the artistic successes of both of these remarkable individuals. When I listen to LINGUA IGNOTA, I feel frightened, oddly powerful and still. When I listen to U.S. Girls, I f*cking get down.

In 2020, Remy released her album “Heavy Light,” opening with a grand admission of the fact that capitalism and feminism might be intentionally intertwined: “shake dice or shake your ass / we all do what we gotta do to pass.” This is how the track “4 American Dollars” opens, and it ends with an outro declaring that “I don’t believe in pennies and nickels / And dimes and dollars and pesos and pounds / And rupees and yen and rubles, no dinero.” Remy and Hayter understand the relationships between all of these strains: violence, misogyny, capitalism, racism (implicitly). Now is the time to call for the revolution, which will be many things: the queer revolution, the BIPOC revolution and certainly, the feminist revolution.

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Young Fenimore Lee '21 (they/them) is a writer for Arts & Life. They are majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing; they write creative nonfiction and poetry. They are also a music journalist with a fondness for indie rock and anything experimental. Contact them at arts 'at' stanforddaily.com.