The trajectory of transformation achieved by Meg Remy under her U.S. Girls banner is as sweeping as it is singular, unrivalled by nearly any North American artist of the past two decades. From crusty, crouch-core basement floors in Philadelphia and Chicago, crooning through delay pedals over grainy loops, to touring the planet as front woman for an explosive eight-piece art-soul orchestra, her vision and craft have honed ceaselessly over the project’s 15-year existence. Remy’s latest creation expands the palette even further, fusing the muses of funk, motherhood, Greek myth, slow jams, and the radical disorientation of joy into an electric tapestry of anthems, aches, and awakenings: Bless This Mess.
Conceived in tandem with the conception and birth of twin boys, the songs were pieced together stem by stem with a vast cast of collaborators (Alex Frankel of Holy Ghost!, Marker Starling, Ryland Blackinton of Cobra Starship, Basia Bulat, Roger Manning Jr. of Jellyfish and Beck,) and audio engineers (Neal H Pogue, Ken Sluiter, Steve Chahley, Maximilian Turnbull). The lack of fixed personnel gives the collection more of a mixtape feel than past outings, aptly reflecting Remy’s profound state of flux. As her body changed so did her voice; her diaphragm lost breathing room, adjusting to the growing lives inside. Many takes were tracked with the babies in utero, or in her arms. (She even samples her breast pump on the album’s poetic closing cut, “Pump”). Remy’s performances are suffused by the physicality of this journey: more blood, more feelings, the interwoven wonders, and wounds of procreation. Fittingly, the songs vary widely in tempo and instrumentation, but brim with a sense of experiential revelation, between discovery and delirium.
Opener “Only Daedelus” kicks off the saga with a smooth slice of powdery glitterball R&B, Remy flexing on the Creator’s hubris: “The labyrinth that you made for me / You know I’m not impressed at all / You’re good with your hands / but where is your soul?” From there her gaze shifts more inward and interpersonal, casting across Shuggie Otis lullabies (“Just Space For Light”), bouncy black mirror ballads (“Screen Face”), sleek widescreen synth bangers (“So Typically Now”), and daydreamy AM radio pop (“RIP Roy G Biv”). The production throughout is exquisite, warm, and wood-panelled, framing the voice, keys, bass, and rhythms in heightened textural harmony. The playlist zigs and zags but never turns its back on the listener; this is overtly an album with a song for everyone. Remy cites the earnestness of funk as a touchstone, its particular sincerity and swing – which manifests memorably on a sultry wounded disco masterpiece sung from the perspective of a discarded tuxedo, “Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo)”: “I’m black / and I’m white / I go with silver / I go with gold / You can’t keep me in this bag forever / I’m gonna bust on thru to you.”
As a platform and persona, U.S. Girls operates on a uniquely out-of-time wavelength, alternately wronged and rueful, classic but contemporary, bruised vignettes of poetic Americana through a feminist lens. Bless This Mess marks both a divergence from and deepening of Remy’s songbook, more at peace with her restless truths and moods. Long-time collaborator (as well as vocal engineer, multi-instrumentalist, husband, and co-parent) Maximilian Turnbull plays a key role facilitating these fluid muses. As artists and partners their rapport at this point is thoroughly symbiotic, able to tap into subtle veins of humour and heaviness, rhythm, and reverie. Remy speaks of seeking to accept and celebrate mystery and the unknown as an underlying emotional goal for the album, which feels distinctly achieved. On the Prince-ish prom slow jam gem, “Futures Bet,” an electric guitar intro curls towards the stars then settles like smoke, clearing the dance floor for her wisdom to ring to the back of the building: “Goodbye history! / Why don’t we let it all be a mystery / that we never sort out? / I’m laying down a future’s bet! / There’s always gonna be someone alive / someone wanting to know why / why do we wanna know why?”
Whether voiced by newborns or long-time listeners, the why will always be asked, and thus we’ll always need attuned figures able to lend empathy – or sing our blues. Remy belongs to a select class of artists able to navigate the shifting sands of style and substance, forever reinventing herself while never losing the thread that connects pop and pain, joy and its opposites. Whether appreciated as a dynamic suite of dexterous melodies or a nuanced artistic response to the complexities of motherhood, Bless This Mess delivers on every level, lingering long after the music has stopped.
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