U.S. Girls, "Gem"
There is something so wonderfully, raucously confident about Gem, and yet the first notes I took on this album made numerous cinematic references before I finally stumbled upon the record's swagger, at which point my awful, nearly-illegible handwriting reads: "IGGY POP ('Nightclubbing')." This reference is for one song in particular, the chunky, sexy number "Slim Baby" (which I previously claimed to be a sister song to the aforementioned Iggy Pop composition on Twitter), and while I do feel that the Lynchian atmospherics and tone are worth exploring, it wasn't until I discovered that spark, this dark, bold undercurrent of Gem, that the album came into full focus for me.
While this brashness drives the album, remedying its few faults, there are issues with the record, and I want to acknowledge these before moving on to Gem's charms. Had I been consulted on the final tracklist, I may have suggested to Meghan Remy that a few songs could be cut from the album and instead used as b-sides—"Work from Home," perhaps even "Rosemary" fall into this category—and would have protested the inclusion of the completely unnecessary "Curves," two minutes of noise and repeated samples which does little as a standalone composition and nothing at all for the album as a whole. These suggestions would have dropped the album's length to under half an hour, but I see no issue here, especially not for an album whose glorious highlight is entitled "Slim Baby."
With that out of the way: Gem is a fantastic album, evocative without being derivative, and wonderfully unique thanks in no small part to Remy's obvious strengths as a songwriter and vocalist. Her haunting, soulful (and yes, Collin, occasionally shrill) voice is one of the album's defining characteristics, unifying the compositions despite the disparate avenues they explore. This playfulness and willingness to venture out into different territory returns us to my first notes on the album, namely its cinematic quality, a characteristic that Pitchfork's Lindsay Zoladz picks up on in her review. (I may have knocked Pitchfork for their weak review of Naomi Punk's The Feeling, but I do believe in giving credit where credit is due, and Zoladz's review is wonderful.) Zoladz aptly remarks in her opening line that "Meghan Remy makes haunted highway songs," soon afterwards making reference to the Lynchian feel of the record, so I shan't delve too deeply down this rabbit hole.
What strikes me the most about this album is how it handles (and arguably perverts and reworks) the concept of nostalgia. Gem draws inspiration from a wide spectrum of American pop and rock: "Down in the Boondocks" boasts elements of '50s rock and Phil Spector-helmed girl group pop; Remy's cover of Brock Robinson's "Jack" is fantastically chunky, swaggering yet soulful; "Slim Baby," as previously noted, recalls The Idiot and Lust for Life-era Iggy Pop (a sound shaped in no small part by David Bowie); and "Another Color," the wonderfully cinematic opener, eventually spills forth like a haunting lounge ballad, awash in lush, nostalgic hues and shades—I imagine it is this opening track that is singlehandedly responsible for the numerous references to David Lynch.
The nostalgia Remy explores on her album is a challenge of sorts—the kind of freedom Gem suggests at within its road (roadhouse?) anthems is elusive in this day and age, with everyone desperately desiring to "be connected," to be hardwired into the Digital Age and all its pleasures. Despite this, there is an undeniable appeal to Remy's world as captured on this record, which begs the question, "What is it about the ultimate promise of a 'highway song'—namely, that ability to disappear, to move unimpeded across county and state lines, to 'fall off the grid'—that appeals to us in this ever-more-connected world?" I will spare you my lengthy answer (which would surely contain at least two block quotes from On the Road and numerous references to Two-Lane Blacktop and Five Easy Pieces, among other literary and cinematic references), not only out of politeness and/or respect to your attention span, but because these questions should be pondered and answered ourselves. Meghan Remy has done her part crafting this fine album and asking the question, now it's up to us listeners to not only explore her work and the world of Gem, but to find our place within it.