One of my favorite bands (and also specifically – LIVE bands) over the last six years, U.S. Girls has carved a niche all of their own, full of bravely experimental and confrontational disco and funk, tackling themes of domestic abuse, relationship balances, social injustice & inequalities, the traps of modern femininity and masculinity, among many other things. Bandleader + head songwriter Meg Remy started the project on her own, and has since expanded (at least the live & studio bands) into sprawling, seven-to-nine piece ensembles that pack a stage and lock in completely, sometimes stopping to allow space for pre-recorded poetry while the band stands staring at the audience, motionless. It’s a whole production. One worthy of your attention.
Their music is disorienting though, because most of the time the lyrics deal with absolutely harrowing scenarios. The music occasionally reflects this (more on 2015 album Heavy Light) with paranoid guitars and ominous synths & sound effects. But on In A Poem Unlimited, we’ll find tough themes backed up against grooving, moving disco & funk.
A quick fun fact is that (essentially) the live band for U.S. Girls has taken up their own project as Badge Époque Ensemble, lead by Remy’s husband Max Turnbull. If you’re looking for more white-hot funk that you’d find on a U.S. Girls album or in the improvisational moments of a ‘Girls live show, check out Badge’s music. But for now, U.S. Girls. Listen to this band.
1. “Navy & Cream” [Half Free, 2015]
An easy choice for #1 for me. For a long time it would have been my #2 choice, “Rosebud”, but I really got into Half Free after I saw U.S. Girls perform live, letting me hear “Navy & Cream” in the wild. Its tragic and melodramatic instrumental sounds like it was directly pulled from a scratchy VHS horror/suspense movie and Meg Remy’s vocal delivery and lyrics further enhance a sense of doom. Not to mention a wicked, flaming guitar solo revs in out of nowhere and burns out as soon as it came in. It’s so sick. The ultimate drama.
2. “Rosebud” [In A Poem Unlimited, 2018]
Tackling issues like airing out coping mechanisms, the dark skeletons that exist in our mind’s closet, the pain that comes before healing, and the meaning of our own personal lives, U.S. Girls make one of, if not THE catchiest song in their discography, with evocative lyrical imagery and a motivating, captivating instrumental backdrop: “Use those keys and take a drive through the dark alleys of your mind”.
3. “Time” [In A Poem Unlimited, 2018]
Who can deny this massive recorded and live highlight? Usually what U.S. Girls cap their sets off with, “Time” is a titanic jam where every member of her band is on fire, whether its the hand percussion, the rhythm guitar, the solo guitar, the bass, the saxophone, the guest vocalists – they’re all in a wonderful, breakneck sync with one another to lay down a harrowing, psychedelic funk experience.
4. “Window Shades” [Half Free, 2015]
Greatly sampling (or essentially lifting the whole instrumental) the fantastic (and maybe kind of rudely unknown to the general public) song “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” by Gloria Ann Taylor, “Window Shades” has become a classic in the U.S. Girls discography for being a superb live highlight and a massive song on Half Free. “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” is a massive track in its own right, so with Meg Remy adding her own stories and emotions on top of it. Killer groove, killer performances. But seriously – listen to Gloria Ann Taylor.
5. “4 American Dollars” [Heavy Light, 2020]
I’m not super hot on U.S. Girls’ 2020 album Heavy Light, but the second single “4 American Dollars” is HOT HOT HOT. The band crushes almost every disco groove they get their hands on, with lava-hot mellotron, righteous hand percussion, shining string sections, super-soulful and spirited backing vocals, spiky rhythm guitar, and most-importantly, an ultra-catchy hook & chorus. I guarantee it’ll get stuck in your head.
6. “Incidental Boogie” [In A Poem Unlimited, 2018]
Maybe the song that most encapsulates U.S. Girls’ topical output for In A Poem Unlimited and Half Free is “Incidental Boogie”, talking about domestic abuse and turning it into a sizzling hot funk burner, with overblown guitars, cymbal-filled percussion, woodblock accents, vocodered vocals in the chorus… all on a song about a woman who has jumped from one abusive relationship that’s better than the last one because he “leaves no marks” so she can still “go to her job” and “not have to think”. WOOF. What a terrifying, heartbreaking portrait, all stuffed into a song that would normally incite a dancing frenzy in a crowd. Thus, the magic and terror of U.S. Girls material.
7. “Sororal Feelings” [Half Free, 2015]
The opener of Half Free sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the album: disorienting instrumentals backing up disturbing lyrical imagery evoking romantic affairs, familial drama, death (“And now I’m gonna hang myself, hang myself from my family tree”). It really just consists of a janky, echoing drum loop and a guitar line that could truly be another sample of a pitched down vocal line and messed with greatly. It alerts the listener that they’re in for one hell of a ride – not just any old indie rock album.
8. “M.A.H.” [In A Poem Unlimited, 2018]
Anti-war disco jams have never sounded so modern! It’s catchy, ultra-groovy, sparkling and delicious, all about toxic male-controlled relationships are like countries eternally locked in pointless wars. I’m mad as hell!
9. “Woman’s Work” [Half Free, 2015]
Like “Time”, “Woman’s Work” is a kaleidoscopic nightmare of a closing track, with a long run-time and plenty of psychedelic flourishes that set U.S. Girls’ tracks apart from other contemporaries. After Half Free felt like a stressful and scandalous chase scene, “Woman’s Work” feels like the final encounter on a runway, with our protagonist just barely escaping the hooded stalker that’s been tailing them. A dizzying synth arpeggio provides the backbone for swirling, robotic guitars and synthetic strings, with Remy singing her heart out. She’s at her wit’s end, and it’s time to stop this madness.
10. “And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve” [Heavy Light, 2020]
U.S. Girls getting some Spanish language-lyrics in here, hell yes! And it’s about fighting the power of the tyrannical governments that lie to us to control us. A complicated instrumental with many moving parts all locking together alongside a great backing vocals is the fire to help propel revolutionaries trying to push back against harmful logic and rhetoric. A raw highlight from Heavy Light.