U.S. Girls Evolve Again on the Sticky and Synthetic 'Bless This Mess'

BY Kaelen BellPublished Feb 24, 2023

On "Only Daedalus," the juicy disco romp that opens U.S. Girls' nervy, synthetic fantasia Bless This Mess, Meg Remy finds herself lost in the mythological architect's legendary labyrinth. But rather than follow the minotaur's lead and stalk furiously through the darkness, Remy chews her lip and rolls her eyes — pregnant, bored and uninspired. 

"You can't invent my love / And you can't hide me away / Forget about your designs / 'Cause there's no hope," she sings cooly, undermining the titular craftsman's pompous handiwork — his mazes and wooden animals, the wax wings that sent his son plummeting to earth — and dismantling them with an aloof sigh. "You're good with your hands / But where's your soul?" she asks her toga-draped lover, prodding him to step down from his column of intellectual machismo: "Icarus will fall / That boy will always fall."

Where Remy's previous record as U.S. Girls — 2020's soul-baring Heavy Light — found her pulling explicitly from real-world traumas and painful family history, Bless This Mess revels in technicolour fantasy and exuberant evasion; she rebuffs Greek sculptors, embodies a lonely tuxedo and follows in the lineage of Kate Bush's snow-sex odyssey "Misty" with a love song to a rainbow. The record is playful above all else, and Remy and her team of madcap conspirators build a fluorescent MIDI jungle gym around these flippant, wonky songs — every surface is plasticky slick or noxiously gummy, a world away from the raw grit and shuddering heat of In a Poem Unlimited's similarly groove-forward milieu. 

In typical U.S. Girls fashion however, not everything is so glib; while the record careens between elastic basslines, sticky beats and molecular transformations, it finds pockets of biting social commentary and some kaleidoscopic reflections on motherhood and birth. Even the goofy, sensual glitter-bomb epic "Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo)" holds layers of meaning, its kooky conceit hiding depth in its carefully sewn seams. "Tuxedos are a funny thing. An outfit that is associated with decadence and luxury but also worn by those who serve the wealthy and elite," Remy told Exclaim! ahead of the album's release. "A strange shared garment that can act as a costume or a uniform."

And there it is on the record's cover, Remy cradling her pregnant stomach in a partly dismantled tux — "Have you ever seen a pregnant person in a tuxedo? I like to see things I have never seen" — while she stares dead ahead. Remy's pregnancy informs the record's moods as much as any intentional heel turn from her previous works. There's a creative wildness that streaks through these songs, a perhaps unexpected take on the "pregnancy record" that eschews warmth and intimacy for spaghetti-at-the-wall slapstick and winking irony. 

Even closing track "Pump," which most explicitly references the gestation and birth of Remy's twin boys — it samples Remy's breast pump, gifted to her by frequent U.S. Girls collaborator Onakabazien — is more existential whirlwind than traditional ode to motherhood. It's a serpentine, diamond-sharp funk odyssey that opens with incredulity at the exchange between mother and child and the sudden weight of responsibility — "How does the milk make it to your mouth? / What I do tonight / It makes our tomorrow" — before dissolving into an extended coda that attempts to exalt the connection between "bodies, birth, death, machines." Like a more grounded treatise on Björk's "The Modern Things," it seeks to address the scale of tradition and bodies and history by collapsing it entirely to the same plane — this strange machine, a gift from a friend, is perhaps as much an ally as the friend himself. 

Pandemic isolation — songwriting fodder that, by now, is unlikely to invoke anything more than eye rolls — is given a facelift on the burbling, Sesame Street-funk jaunt "Screen Face," as Remy and Michael Rault harmonize about the pitfalls of Zoom dates and video sex, desperate for the taste and texture and scent of real-life love.

Elsewhere, the patient groove of "R.I.P. Roy G Biv" is somewhat marred by an unnecessarily Auto-Tuned appearance from Marker Starling, while the thwomping "So Typically Now" finds Remy tackling gentrification and rising housing prices. The song is a sonic highlight — icy and enormous, caught in the tides of big avalanching drum fills — but its (unfortunately timely) topic feels somehwhat less exciting when slotted against the new frontiers explored on songs like "Tux," "Pump," and the cosmic vignettes about money woes and future selves on the gorgeous "St. James Way."

Still, a song as bravely confronting (and fun) as "So Typically now" could only feel slight in a catalogue as deft and defying as Remy's. Some may miss the crackling warmth of previous U.S. girls records, but Bless This Mess feels like a rebirth; a boundless, alien take on Remy's explosive art-pop, its conceptual wildness and sonic friskiness allowing her to flex her vision and sense of humour in brand new ways. "I don't want a castle / Just a door to shut," she tells a banker on "St. James Way." With Bless This Mess, she's kicked a dozen open. 
(Royal Mountain Records)

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