Women are men. Four dudes from Calgary. It's a city in Canada. Home of the world's largest outdoor rodeo. But they, meaning Women, are not cowboys. Women play music. Good music. Great even.
They feign simplicity with their moniker, the name of their debut album (Women), even their song titles (“Upstairs,” “Cameras,” “Woodbine,” “Lawncare”). But they revel in duplicity. They'd revel in triplicity, but triplicity is not a word.
Women are maniacal about seeming minimal. The hollow vocals. Languid melodies. Breezy hooks. Methodical drums. Crackling static. Crisp chords. Fuzzy guitars. But the sum is substantially more complex than the rudiments of its parts. Some consider Women a low-fidelity recording. Christopher Reimer (guitar, samples) politely disagrees.
“I hate it when people call us lo-fi,” Reimer says. “We were just trying to make it sound old. There is tape hiss because we were recording on tape, not because we were trying to use it as an effect.”
Women strain pet sounds from the '60s into something distinct. Not derivative. Evolved. It might sound like singer / guitarist Patrick Flegel recorded his Women vocals from the bottom of a well. But that's just wild hyperbole. It was recorded in a culvert. And a basement. And a crawl space. On purpose? Yes. No.
“Every two days it's like, ‘What the fuck are we doing?'” Reimer says. “We started out recording it digital, and that wasn't working, so then we went outside in the snow and that worked. It was just a series of great accidents.”
Accident by design. Women first played together as teenagers. They hit a creative dead-end and dispersed into the eclectic wilderness of playing in other bands and listening to other sounds. Then they gravitated back together again with an earnest desire to create originality out of familiarity. The band enlisted friend, fellow Calgarian and Sup Pop musician / artist Chad VanGaalen to record Women.
“We worked in extremes,” Reimer says. “If one thing wasn't working, we tried something drastically different. Some of it was premeditated in terms of getting a certain sound, but a lot of it was just real guerilla-style recording.”
Hence, singing inside a drainage culvert in the middle of winter. Playing in basements and crawl spaces and taping the results on old boomboxes. The results culminate in a peculiar contradictory aesthetic. Less is more and more is more, more or less.
And despite the inherent throwback snap, crackle and pop appeal of signature songs like “Black Rice” and “Ground Transport Hall,” they were recorded with the same diligence afforded the experimental warp on tracks like “Lawncare” and “January 8th.”
“We're really self-conscious about the sounds that we're making,” Reimer says. “We're constantly scrutinizing everything—is this too cheesy or just too weird—and so we're always going to be critical about what we're doing until we think it sounds good.”
The result is aural déjà vu. You've heard this before but you haven't heard this before. By the time the album was released by Jagjaguwar in October 2008, Women had fast become made men. They played—and killed—at CMJ. More fans began showing up. They played—and slayed—in Europe. Even more people took notice.
“The response has actually been really surprising to me,” Reimer says. “We play places we've never been and I feel like people should not even know who we are but they're really into it and our live show is drastically different from the record. It's really noisy and loud as fuck.”
Tastemakers have scrambled for dibs on claiming the new hotness. The band has watched with bemused perplexity at becoming fodder for the Next Big Thing machine.
“Some people assume you're a big deal if you've done certain things or played certain places,” Reimer says. “That's just how the hype thing works. It's strange to us because it means nothing. It's not real, and you can't believe any of it. We appreciate that it draws people to our music, but we're a little skeptical about it, and I think that's healthy.”
With increased attention come heightened efforts to categorize Women. Their music has been described as everything from “freak rock” and “treehouse rock” to “sunny Beach Boys pop dragged into a dark alley and gleefully mutilated.” Presumed influences range from The Velvet Underground and The Zombies to This Heat and Animal Collective.
“People keep saying we sound like Animal Collective, and I just don't get it,” Reimer says. “That kind of weirds me out. But we also get compared to Swell Maps a lot, and that's cool. That's more of a sound and an idea that we're aiming for.”
Women have had to refine that sound on the fly, considering, as Reimer points out, “we weren't even really a band yet when we recorded the album.” Playing 150 shows—including recent spotlight sets at South by Southwest—in 12 months helps. But smoothing over rough edges isn't exactly the band's forte, and Women are already eager to propel their creative process further.
“We have a lot of ideas and I think we're all itching to sit down and just let the tape roll,” Reimer says. “Being on the road makes that hard, but there are some new things that we want to try that we didn't quite nail on the first one. I think we're all looking forward to making something that sounds really crazy, something really different.” Women play Sunday, March 29, with Herman Dune and Chad VanGaalen at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.myspace.com/womenmusic.