U.S. Girls – ‘Heavy Light’ review: frustrating filler pulls focus from flashes of brilliance

Meg Remy's latest album lacks the slick, danceable energy of 2018's outrageously good 'In A Poem Unlimited' – but there's still beauty to be found here

For more than 10 years Toronto-based American musician Meg Remy has released avant-pop records in abundance. Her musical arc has moved from no-wave lo-fi (‘Introducing’ [2008] and ‘Go Grey’ [2010]) to more tuneful creations that trace 1960s-style pop, glam rock, funk, disco, punk and noir (‘Half Free’ [2015] and ‘In A Poem Unlimited’ [2018]).

It’s evident that Remy’s decision to progressively imbue her songs with more popular music tropes has been a good one and so have her experiments using multiple narrative voices instead of hers alone. This more holistic direction was the point at which many came to know Remy’s solo project. ‘In A Poem Unlimited’ was undoubtedly the Chicago native’s finest and most accessible work, packed with slick, danceable soul bangers that ran with the voices of ‘Half Free’’s marginalised female characters.

You’d be forgiven, then, for wanting that quality sustained or enhanced on ‘Heavy Light’. Opener ‘4 American Dollars’ belies the impression that Remy’s newest effort is stuffed with songs like its big sister ‘In A Poem Unlimited’. A Motown-style backing vocal group, decadent strings, syncopated beats and funk riffs set the backdrop to Remy’s theatrical alto. A five-minute meditation on late capitalism (“I don’t believe in pennies and nickels… No dinero!”) is the album’s early frontrunner.

‘Overtime’ persists with the same kind of sheen (it’s a soul-pop reworking of a song from Remy’s 2013 EP ‘Free Advice Column’) as does the multi-lingual ‘And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve’ with bombastic samba grooves, mallet chimes and buzzy basslines. Remy’s fascination with government control looms large on the latter: “They lie to us about everything, don’t they?” 

Remy’s record label describes ‘Heavy Light’ as the album in which she “turns inward, recounting personal narratives with a curious retrospection.” These moments of reflection, such as Remy’s retelling of her and her friend’s experience of watching the disastrous ‘Woodstock ‘99’ festival unfold on TV, might be lyrically vivid but musically they are tedious listens. ‘IOU’ and ‘Denise, Don’t Wait’ also fall short. The latter is one of a handful of tracks on the album that’s adorned with frilly orchestration, but sounds like a formless interlude from the soundtrack to a musical you’ve fallen asleep to.

Woven between the songs on ‘Heavy Light’ are medleys of voice recordings where people say what they’d tell their teenage self or recount the most hurtful things others have said to them. These stand apart from Remy’s personal tales as fragments of our collective human experiences. But they also feel like a last ditch attempt to pad out a 38-minute record that already includes three reworkings of old songs. Despite their emotion, they feel cynically designed to thread together the record’s vague theme of retrospection.

Penultimate track ‘The Quiver To The Bomb’ is the overarching glue the record needs, a brooding, psychedelic noir musing on how short human history is in the context of the universe’s existence.

‘Heavy Light’ sparkles with flashes of brilliance like this and, invariably, in its fresher, more fleshed-out material. But it’s also littered with spoken-word filler and forgettable piano confessionals. Had the stronger songs been contained to an EP it could well have rivalled the extraordinary consistency and thrill of its predecessor – but frustratingly, it falls short.


Release date: March 6

Label: 4AD