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Women

Taking Music Back

Calgary's Women Exercise their Independence while the international buzz builds

By Aaron Levy

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As Canadians await the announcement of this year’s Polaris Prize winner, one album is already making a strong bid for 2011. Women release their new album, Public Strain, recorded by fellow Calgarian and two-time Polaris Prize nominee Chad VanGaalen, on September, 28th, 2010, exactly one week plus a day after this year’s Polaris Prize is awarded.

Their debut, self-titled try was nominated in 2009. Given the emerging Polaris trend of seeing writers reward repeat offenders with short-list status (Besnard Lakes, BSS, Caribou, Final Fantasy/Owen Pallet, and Shad – half of this year’s final ten were nominated in the past), it’s fair to say that Public Strain is a lock for 2011.

What's the point of bashing something? It's not worth your time if you don�t like it.

Canucks aren’t the only ones making a big deal out of this foursome with the nondescript moniker. Canadian-friendly Indiana based Jagjaguwar Records (Besnards, Black/Pink Mountain/tops, Julie Doiron, Swan Lake, Sunset Rubdown) joins the Women team with Calgary’s Flemish Eye, and global trendsetter/heat-takers Pitchfork (nee media) were quick to pick up on the mid-Fall release of Women, making it a feature in their Honourable Mention of 2008’s Best Albums.

Though said publication may be on the ball with their claim that Women is ‘where guitar-based indie rock is headed right now’, an even more astute guitarist Patrick Flegel brushes off that kind of hyperbole with equal amounts nonchalance.

Women
Women live in Amsterdam (photo: Robert Starrett)

‘It’s just a website… I notice a lot of people feel threatened by it,’ Flegel muses via phone, in the midst of a whirlwind press junket. ‘Some people feel like they need to get permission to listen to something from that website, and there’s another batch of people who are too cool for that, so they won’t listen to something because it’s been approved.’

Salient social criticism aside, Flegel certainly recognizes the value of a forum where low-income artists can hit chords with a widespread audience.

‘I appreciate that they expose some things, and try to legitimize things that maybe wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of validation from a different publication. Like putting a This Heat record up, and saying it’s one of the most important records of the 70’s or 80’s.’

Some people feel like they need to get permission to listen to something.

Flegel explicitly expresses support for Alberta based Weird Canada. ‘The thing about him (Editor Aaron Levin) is he only writes about things that he actually enjoys. It makes sense to me, what’s the point of bashing something? It’s not worth your time if you don’t like it.”

After all the convictions and opinions though, Flegel doesn’t put stock into the status afforded him by being part of a thriving band in a thriving time for independent artists. Album sales may be low, and micro-analysis and criticism of music-makers may be at an all time high, but that doesn’t stop Women from keeping cooler heads.

‘We had this day off in Spain, on this island called Majorca, and we rented bikes, and road along the coast of the Mediterranean… just looking at each other, laughing our asses off, because it didn’t make any sense that we were there. Like, what the fuck are we doing here? We’re Douche Bags! It was just a magical experience.’

It’s clear that the distaste for taste making and up-to-dating is central to even the name Women. Flegel refers to it as ‘a very generic word. If we could have not named it, we’d have gone with that. We just liked that it was sort of a dead word you hear every single day.’

A decentralization of individual power is common through Women’s work, despite Flegel’s assertion that ‘We’re not trying to blow people’s minds with some sort of message’. Odd to say for a band that has a tendency at times to sound like Animal Collective covering Wolf Parade, two bands with distinct knacks for thematic songwriting and recording processes, but the claim holds true; up until this week, the only song on their myspace (http://www.myspace.com/womenmusic) was a John Fogerty recording!

In terms of releasing the hold that music and its making has on all of the superficially socio-political leanings of so many, Flegel says the band, and in particular their motivation behind Public Strain, is far more insular than lending credence to all that could afford. ‘It’s something we did for ourselves, and that’s that. People can listen to it if they want, and if you get something out of it then that’s cool.’

So whether or not Women appear on any length of the 2011 Polaris Prize nominee list, and regardless of what any Pitchfork, Earshot, or Ottawa Citizen writers have to say about the matter, the fact is that Public Strain, as a statement, is destined to become a hallmark of Canadian music for today.

Women just seem to have the right stuff, for the right audience, at the right time. That’s something that should definitely make Canadians say ‘Oh, yeah, Eh!'

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