Most bands create albums from the small to the large, using songs as component parts to build their long players, often without knowing how these constructs will turn out. Some bands, however, see the bigger picture from the outset. They know what they want to build and they know how each component must be shaped in a particular way to fit their blueprint. Women fall into this latter group and Public Strain, as silly as it sounds, is an album for album lovers.
Taken individually, each song offers only glimpses of what Public Strain is all about. There are a couple of highlights which may show off the album’s qualities better than other tracks but Women haven’t crafted this as an album to dip into briefly now and again – its intent is to wholly envelop you, seeping into your pores gradually like having a long soak in the bath. Each song flows into and compliments the previous one, and throughout the entirety of the album’s run time there is neither a single miss-step nor one second of filler.
The flow between the opening couple of tracks, ‘Can’t You See’ and ‘Heat Distraction’ is the strongest example of this. The former is a noisy, distorted quagmire of detuned orchestral instrumentation, flat vocals and just the merest hint of melody at the point where the orchestra opens up in the mid section. The latter however begins with simplistic spikes of guitar, which are made more melodious only because of the murk which precedes them. It’s almost incomprehensible how such a simple, ramshackle piece of music can sound so vital and interesting – you may not hear it on your first listen but your ears will be in rapture on subsequent plays.
‘Narrow with the Hall’ is the closest Public Strain comes to offering a memorable, hummable tune. This is not an album that exults in hooks and melodic refrains but this track is as close to a very old school, two and a half minute pop gem as anything else Women offer here. This isn’t to say that there are no other breaks from the shade and drone. ‘Penal Colony’ offers something more contemplative with its delicately strummed guitar and dreamy, echoey vocals and ‘Locust Valley’ has a cleaner, lighter sound, even throwing a brilliantly under-used semi-chorus simply made up of reluctant ‘ooooohs’.
The two previously mentioned highlights are ‘China Steps’ and closing track ‘Eyesore’. ‘China Steps’ builds slowly with a foreboding bass line that is scissored open by mechanical guitar squeals. The bass and guitar thrillingly snipe back and forwards at each other like an embittered married couple, before settling their differences and rolling towards a beautifully spaced out closing. ‘Eyesore’ feels exactly how an album closer should. It encapsulates and perhaps expands on everything that has come before, sounding more classically formed whilst still taking in the haunting drones, hinted melodies and spiky guitars of the rest of the album.
Public Strain is a gloriously complete album. It’s unique, utterly absorbing and holds a mysterious, unquantifiable characteristic which transfixes the listener like the swinging pocket watch of a hypnotist.