The Calgary based noisy experimental band Women released two of my favorite albums of the past 10 years. Their 2nd album, Public Strain, stands as one of the most interesting, challenging and intricate albums that I have ever heard. The attention to detail and Chad Vangaalen’s production, which added grit and depth in unique ways to each of the tracks, proved Public Strain to be the perfect realization of what the band was capable of.
On October 29, 2010, a fight on stage between band members in a Victoria, BC venue, quickly followed by the cancellation of the remainder of their tour, put the future of Women into question. Sadly, they never played another gig before guitarist Chris Reimer tragically died on February 21, 2012. Passing due to complications from a heart condition, the entire indie rock community in Canada mourned the loss of their friend and guitarist, and any hopes of Women carrying on were dashed.
The dissolution of Women finds the remaining 3 members – guitarist and singer Pat Flegel, bassist Matt Flegel, and drummer Mike Wallace – forming two different bands that take wholly different approaches to making music. Pat formed a band called Cindy Lee, while Matt and Mike got together in Viet Cong.
Viet Cong finds Matt and Mike, together with Scott Munro of Lab Coast and Danny Christiansen of Sharp Ends. The band performs a mix of post-punk and brightly colored new wave that sounds strangely English. Synth sounds and hypnotic bass lines underscore jagged guitar parts, shifting meters and subtly echoed vocals. They released a cassette on Bandcamp with virtually (read: actually) no promotion or advertisement. The only way that I found it was by chance, cruising the last.fm shoutbox for Women. At the time that I found the Bandcamp page for Viet Cong it consisted of only one track. A live version of a song called “Quality Arrangement.” On September 5th “Quality Arrangement” disappeared and was replaced with the 6 tracks totaling about 25 minutes of music, sitting somewhere between EP and LP. The release is titled “Cassette” on Bandcamp, and I’ve yet to figure out if that is the name of the release, or if there are actual cassette copies of this floating around somewhere. Currently $5 CAD will only buy you an instant download of the album.
The songs retain the overall ambient nature of some of Women’s less noisy material, and the guitar work does seem to take its cues from friend and former bandmate Chris Reimer. “Oxygen Feed” is an ultra-catchy, upbeat guitar driven track that could be released as a single on an album that is chock full of great melodies and moody vocals. The acoustic guitar of “Static Wall” starts out by sounding like Buffalo Springfield before morphing into something completely different. “Structureless Design” amps up the buzzing synth sound and new wave elements set behind mechanical singing along with guitar and bass locked into a steady groove. The track then descends into a wild, noisy guitar freak out, taking an unexpected turn that grows more chaotic as the song comes to a close.
Chaos is also a good word to describe Pat Flegel’s new project Cindy Lee. The album Tatlashea could not be any more different from Viet Cong if it tried. This recording will doubtless provide a completely different listening experience than most people, including the most dedicated fans of Women, are ready to handle. Each track is a nearly formless, anarchic maelstrom of loud bursts of atonal, distorted guitar with vocals buried deep in the mix. Songs sound like they were recorded instantly, as the ideas seem to form out of nothing, allowing each track to document the journey of the process of writing itself. Album opener “Fuck Myself Stupid,” the title alone giving the listener at least some inkling of the kind of rough, antagonistic sound that is explored throughout, finds Flegel’s de-tuned guitar strings bending in and out of focus with a timbre reminiscent of the early drumsticks-jammed-under-guitar-strings sound of Sonic Youth.
The more one listens to Tatlashea the more that the recording begins to come into focus. Little bits of tunes start grabbing your attention. For example, there is something even resembling a chorus in “Find Another Man” somewhere before the drummer goes insane on the cymbals and the guitar follows suit, also descending into madness. It even comes back before the end. And, there is something that is truly intriguing and satisfying to my love for new sounds in Flegel’s out of tune electric guitar over the acoustic strummed rhythm. The closing of “Find Another Man” takes noise and feedback to a whole other level, squealing and screeching at an unbridled volume and even going so far as to mess with the recording, tapping on the microphone over the course of its 10 minutes.
Overall the sound of Tatlashea is incredibly dark, possibly recorded in a cave or some dark, empty club. Despite it sounding like it is somewhere between improvised and barely rehearsed, there are a few songs that not only hold themselves together, but manage to hold the entire recording together as well. Right in the middle of the album “Holding the Devil’s Hand” throws in some 60’s ballad, falsetto singing and arpeggiated guitar with a quick verse and chorus while “Assassination Reality” brings in some honest, thrashing rock. Where Viet Cong is flexing their new wave muscles, Cindy Lee is placing themselves squarely into no wave territory. The album was released on cassette, but is currently sold out. Like Viet Cong, though, it is still available for download on Bandcamp for $2 CAD.
Viet Cong and Cindy Lee take the different elements toward distilling the sound of Women, exposing the influence that each of the members had on the overall sound of their former band. If you’d like to read a bit more about Viet Cong or Cindy Lee there are a few interviews with Matt and Pat available that provide at least some insight into the direction that these guys are headed. Viet Cong have been touring fairly extensively across the US and Canada, though it appears as though they only have one more date listed for October 20 in Edmonton at Wunderbar. (editor’s note: edited and posted much later than post was submitted) There are currently no tour dates listed for Cindy Lee.