Published Sep 26, 2010In 2008, Calgary quartet Women seemingly came out of nowhere with their self-titled debut album, a collection of timeless pop songs under a blanket of post-punk frenzy and mid-fi production. The record won the band fans across the globe, setting off a seemingly endless touring schedule. Finally taking a break at the end of 2009, they started ten months of writing, jamming and recording for their sophomore release. But where they could have cashed in on a wealth of hype, Women have offered a vehement "fuck you" to expectations on Public Strain. The album's lead single "Eyesore" is the last track, and despite its relative accessibility, it clocks in at over six minutes. Before the listener arrives there, they'll have to tread through perilous territory that includes plodding bass lines, lush ambient sections, eruptions of post-punk and distant, softly developing pop songs.
Like their debut, Public Strain was recorded in bit parts with the aid of fellow Calgary experimenter Chad Van Gaalen. Guitarist and vocalist Pat Flegel says they didn't plan on following that path with their second album. "We promised ourselves we weren't going to do that again," he admits. "The vibe was just so aimless and completely haphazard. Getting together for this one, it was the exact same thing: 'Hey Chad, we showed up and we don't know what we're doing and we don't have half the lyrics done.'"
The chaotic process is a central aspect of Women's output. The group, rounded out by guitarist Chris Reimer, bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace, have distilled a specific sound resting between Swell Maps and Syd Barrett, but they still rely on a measure of spontaneity. "I like combining ambitious production ideas with this element of carelessness," Pat explains. "We had a really clear idea of what we wanted to do for certain things, but at the same time we hadn't rehearsed a lot."
In many ways, Public Strain is a perfect representation of the band, at once alienating and endearing. "A lot of the music that I really enjoy is extremely self-indulgent, and I think that might be what appeals to me about it," Pat admits. "It's just someone making something for themselves and not worrying about who's listening. I've always felt like music was an escape from everything; from people in general. I always felt like it was just something I did that made me feel good and that's basically my only drive."
With that in mind, the season of touring following Public Strain's release is still a dream come true, as all four members have been trying to make their music work since high school. "I tried to book tours when I was 16 and it's really fucking hard. I tried to book tours when I was 18 and it's the same thing. You're always getting rejected, people aren't returning your calls or your messages," Flegel recalls. "Being in a position where you have all these people who are eager to help you, and even arts funding and all these things at your disposal. I feel really privileged and I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can and not take it for granted."