Only the mind of Meg Remy can take the trauma inflicted on Earth and our childhoods and create something as wonderful as Heavy Light, another vivid and highly affecting album of experimental pop music.
In her long career as a sound collagist and pop music obsessive, Meg Remy has thrived in moments of feminized vitriol. The women of Remy’s songs are so often threatening to asphyxiate themselves, on the verge of suicide, and mad as hell. For much of her career, U.S. Girls has been an exploration of female violence and rage. But Heavy Light, Remy’s seventh album, lives in that period of emptiness that comes after.
Like 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited, Heavy Light is a sideways look at the history of pop music and the capitalist world in which it thrives. What’s different here is how it sounds, and how it feels. These songs capture the watershed moment when your throat closes up, your head cools off, and your tears run dry: It is when you enter what can only be described as a zone of weightless grief. It’s dense, heady, hard to grasp, but that’s what makes her music so rich. Remy casts herself as a pop star and reflects on the traumas of childhood and earth through parables and the music we grew up on.
Heavy Light taps into a deep well of pop music, the product of someone who listens to ’60s girl groups and Bruce Springsteen records with equal passion. The slick disco song “4 American Dollars,” with all of its vocal harmonies and synthesizer freakouts, feels indebted to the plastic soul of David Bowie’s Young Americans. Remy includes words of advice that she lifts from a Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “You gotta have boots/If you wanna lift those bootstraps.” “State House (It’s a Man’s World),” is a soured reimagining of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” with a hallucinatory kick drum and a layer of dense noise that feels like watching the third rail on the subway catch fire in half-time. “But it’s just a man’s world, we just breed here,” Remy and her backing choir sing. Heavy Light thrives in this sort of dissociative blaze where gender politics, grief, and deeply fucked-up pop hooks slam into one another.
So much of Heavy Light exists in this emotional space that feels like an exquisite freefall. Listening to “Born to Lose”—with its surreal nod to Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully”—feels like walking out of your body; a vibraphone solo spirals into dissonance and congas float like debris after a hurricane. Remy’s mezzo-soprano is emotive and clear, like someone doing Patti Smith karaoke to an empty room. On the emotional heavyweight “IOU,” she muses about the idea that no one chooses to be born. She is art-pop’s own Orpheus, singing about the end of the world as she watches everyone she knew and loved disappear from her field of vision.
The album reaches its highest altitudes on “The Quiver to the Bomb,” a sweeping anthem about the birth of humanity and the environmental disaster that has followed. The pain you hear in Remy’s voice is drawn from the terror humanity has inflicted upon the earth. We are not just killing one another through our bottomless hunger for violence: we are mutilating our planet, too. “Accretion speaks louder than words,” she sings, flatly, banging the gavel on the trial of our species.
Peppered through the record are three potent sound collages, fugues of overlapping voices that speak about the experiences they had when they were young and malleable. “I would tell her that I loved her, and that life is long,” one voice says on “Advice to Teenage Self.” “The Most Hurtful Thing” takes a headlong dive into the pain of being young, reminiscing about a parent who tells you that they fucked up raising you, and the sensation of being called insane to your face. So much of being alive is an exercise in denying the existence of personal trauma. Collective trauma, Remy seems to suggest, is the reason for the fracturing of our society. We carry our pain everywhere; it molds and destroys our environment. If so much of living with trauma is about needing to find a path ahead, Heavy Light shines the way.
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