Meg Remy of U.S. Girls probably couldn’t have had a better release date for her new album, Heavy Light. The latest record, the newest release since 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited, takes the frequent seeds of patriotic anger present in Remy’s work and builds a garden out of them. The week that sees America’s incompetent leadership collide with its corrupt, capitalist’s dream of a health system is a perfect time to listen to Remy’s ferociously energetic anger.
Unlimited was a big step forward for the U.S. Girls project, debuting a much more polished sound, with pop hooks abounding. One of the most subversive pop tricks on Unlimited was “M.A.H.,” which combined a kaleidoscopic disco rhythm with Remy’s reckoning of genuine disappointment with President Obama’s policies. Heavy Light takes that potent mix of eclectic but electric music and righteous songwriting and uses it to paint a portrait of living under the oppressive, mangled weight of modern America.
The songwriting, in general, is more inscrutable here than it was on Unlimited, but this very quality makes the hazy, clouded emotions of the album more intense. Occasionally, a pointed remark will slip through that grabs you by the shoulders. For instance, during the pseudo-empowering album opener “4 American Dollars,” Remy reminds you that “you gotta have boots/if you wanna lift those bootstraps” and “State House” bluntly states “it’s a man’s world, we just breed here.”
The first few tracks set the tone of the album by being named after terms related to various capitalist activities. After “4 American Dollars,” there comes “Overtime” and “IOU.” The latter two songs aren’t necessarily about the strict subject of the title, but how they use these terms in relation to personal experiences illustrates the pervasive way the American way of regarding everything in terms of money or debt, work or productivity, and goals or failures seeps into our intimate human moments.
In another stylistic progression away from Unlimited, Remy fills Heavy Light with an ever-present backup choir that fills and lifts up several of the best songs. In addition to adding a distinct musical flair to this album that marks it from her previous works, this chorus of voices invokes the communal spirit in many of these songs and interludes. “Advice to Teenage Self,” “The Most Hurtful Thing,” and “The Color of Your Childhood Bedroom” all feature a collage of voices answering the titular questions. The most distinctive part of these collages is that most of the answers are the same. The advice is most often “don’t worry,” the most hurtful thing is most often an insult to someone’s value one way or another, and the color of the childhood bedroom, if remembered, is white or blue. These seemingly random snippets are nevertheless interesting for that very reason, that they represent a fundamental shared human experience, even if only through small similarities. These shared moments act as brief moments of relief among an album that otherwise takes time to consider economic and gender disparities.
If all of this sounds too, well, heavy, there is light here as well. Present in the music, Remy fills the album with relentlessly intriguing and creative musical choices, all of which are bursting with the energizing force of Remy’s performance. From the first plaintive disco strings to the positively funky beat of “And Yet it Moves/Y Se Mueve,” down to the thumping war drums of “Red Ford Radio,” Heavy Light is almost always interesting if not always “catchy.” In addition to her sonic experimentation, Remy quotes an array of past music. The sampling of Warren G’s ”Regulate” on Unlimited is only slightly less startling than the entire quotation of the most famous lines of Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” on this album’s “Woodstock ’99.” The album ends with two comparatively foreboding songs, especially when compared to the faux uplift of “4 American Dollars.” “The Quiver to the Bomb” creates a metaphor for Mother Earth as a lonely woman who “made room for one and all…but all at her expense,” as Remy considers how quickly humans, present on Earth for so little, moved quickly from using quivers and bows to bombs and in so doing destroying our planetary home. “Red Ford Radio” largely features one refrain over a rather aggressive, war-like percussive beat. Remy sings on, “I can’t breathe in this red Ford anymore/I’d do anything to get out, get out.” At the end of Heavy Light, here we are again with symbols of American prosperity and production. In the first track, we hear, “you can do a lot with four American dollars,” and 12 tracks later, we’ve bought a nice red Ford that acts as our cage. We’re stuck inside this blood-red machine, ready to do anything to get out. But while we look for that way out, U.S. Girls will keep on letting us dance our way through the cycle of “Overtime,” living in a man’s world (“State House”), and being “Born to Lose.”