U.S. Girls finds the gigantic pop sound to match her big ideas on In A Poem Unlimited

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U.S. Girls was an ironic name when Meg Remy started her DIY pop project over a decade ago, but now it’s ironic for a different reason. Where the disconnect once came from the fact that the “girls” were just one person, it now stems from the “U.S.” part. The American-born Remy has settled in Toronto, and it’s given her a cast of musical collaborators to fully match the richness and scope of her ideas. 

In A Poem Unlimited is an album about violence – gendered violence reflected in socio-political violence cascading up from violence against the land. To match those vast global themes, she’s pulled in the avant-jazz players of the Cosmic Range, her husband Max Turnbull (formerly Slim Twig), throwback 70s rocker Michael Rault, weirdo hip-hop producer Onakabazien, plus singers Basia Bulat, Jennifer Castle, Amanda Crist of Ice Cream and others. She’s rounded up many of Toronto’s most virtuosic-yet-underrated musicians and turned them into 2018’s best (and perhaps only) classic disco band.

Remy is now surfacing the darkness lurking in the coked-up excesses of disco’s lush, funky grooves and Donna Summer-sized vocal flourishes in the same way she once teased out the hidden subversiveness of Spector-era girl group music. There’s sax solos, backup vocals and gigantic pop hooks. If not for the fact the songs are about violence and rape culture, you could almost picture them killing on a bar mitzvah dance floor. 

It’d be easy to assume Remy has made an album responding to the #MeToo movement and the current chaos of American politics, but these are themes Remy has been exploring since day one. And while the subject matter is big, the beauty of the album is in the specificity of its storytelling. 

Remy has trumpeted the influence of local singer/songwriter Simone Schmidt (the Highest Order, Fiver) for the way she’s able to translate large political ideas into detail-rich character studies, and she wears that influence even more overtly here. She covers Fiver’s Rage Of Plastics and turns its mournful dirge about an infertile woman protesting the hypocrisy of her oil refinery employer into a gloriously sleazy rave-up in the style of Alannah Myles’s Black Velvet

Where Schmidt’s songs are rich with poetic detail, Remy’s are like little scenes from a play, filled with clever dialogue masking hidden menace. In Pearly Gates, she adopts the double entendre-filled perspective of a woman attempting to seduce St. Peter to get into heaven. Velvet 4 Sale plays on a similar hard/soft violence dynamic, feminizing a gun as “velvet” and recontextualizing a Normal Mailer depiction of sex work. Incidental Boogie is a re-recording of an old U.S. Girls track written from the perspective of a victim of domestic abuse whose grateful perspective is brought into further ironic contrast by how heavily the song leans on “boogie.”

Remy is at her most confident as a writer and singer on Poem, and, by working with others, she’s created the fullest realization of U.S. Girls yet. 

Top track: Velvet 4 Sale

U.S. Girls play the Horseshoe on April 19. See listing.

richardt@nowtoronto.com | @trapunski

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