Album Review: The Julie Ruin – “Hit Reset”

Hit Reset is an album that I like a lot, but it’s also one that I really wanted to love. With their previous album, The Julie Ruin had created something unique yet uneven. Their sound mixed foundations of garage-punk with heavy doses of electronica, experimental rock, and noise pop, creating melodies as catchy as they were weird. Probably the most remarkable part of their sound came from the sheer force of will exuded by front-woman Kathleen Hanna, whose unapologetic feminism was conveyed in a remarkable style of singing that could alternate playful monotone and outraged screaming in a heartbeat.

From the opening eponymous track, the band’s tremendous creativity shines in a way that’s far more cohesive than anything they’ve put out before. A tight drum beat and a swaying guitar rhythm set out a faint set of structure that the band proceeds to build on with a playful cavalcade of vocal harmony’s, electronic rings, and Hanna’s lyrics, which bounce from playful taunts like “I don’t think your sorry at all” to grainy shouting and high-pitched shrieks.

The album proceeds to then take a pretty daring step by following all that poppy energy with “I Decide,” a slower guttural track that gives lays out a metronome-like drum and bass combination, that seems to restrict the guitar’s flourishes within a dark, oppressive scaffolding. This sudden sense of restraint creates a tension that is only magnified by cryptic lyrics like “I belong to the wolves who drug me, in their mouths just like a baby.” The whole contraption speeds up, but there’s never any breakdown, leaving a feeling of haunted dissatisfaction.

These two tracks sum up the intriguing emotional core of Hit Reset, a back and forth between playful teasing, and dark outrage. As the album develops, the group’s feminism emerges much more front-and-center. “Rather Not” re-frames the old narrative of unrequited love from the uninterested party’s perspective, turning advances into a dangerous nuisance with lines like “your fantasy about us is just a cheap mirage.” “Mr So and So” creates the narrative of a strange significant other who fabricates the most superficial levels of feminist theory to make himself look smart. Both these songs are bursting with humor and energy- the former layering dreamy teasing upon mounting bass-lines, the latter using fast talk-singing above zipping guitar riffs and chirping synth beats- and yet consistently manage to take their nestled ideas seriously.

Yet, the strange thing about the album as a collection, is that one of its greatest strengths also becomes its undoing. While Hanah’s voice is strong and defiant, it’s also limited in its range. This first becomes apparent in “Be Nice”, in which she over-saturates the song with audio distortions of her own inaudible yelling. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem, were it not for the fact that her singing has a habit of overpowering the immensely talented musicianship at play. In “Roses More Than Water,” the drums, guitar, and keyboard delve into the realms of groove to give a nice respite from what’s come so far, and yet the vocals then step in to the deliver rapid-fire talk singing that really pushes the all that goodwill to the background. This all leads to the biggest misstep of the album; with the conclusive track “Calverton” we’re given a slow and somber piano piece with genuinely touching meditations on loss and the feeling of defeat. The shame here, is that Hanna’s voice just can’t maintain the beautiful sincerity of the song, leading to something that just isn’t very pleasant to listen to.

I don’t mean to come down hard on Hanna, because I still believe that the sheer force of personality that she conveys through the album is immensely powerful. I just wish the album had a slightly better sense of when to step back and let the instruments speak for themselves.

4 / 5  Stars

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