Published Mar 03, 2020In Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools, the author concedes that "the past is never where you think you left it" — both a comment on our failure to see the insidious patterns of history, and a recognition of yesterday's slippery nature, of its knack for hiding and revealing itself in unexpected ways.
Heavy Light, the remarkable new record from Meg Remy's U.S. Girls project, is a scavenger hunt for these elusive pasts — music devoted to reflection and retrospection. Recorded live on the floor at Montreal's Hotel2Tango, the record is a communal exultation built from piano, percussion and waves of human voice. It feels like the culmination of Remy's work to date, music in constant conversation with itself — the sum greater than its parts, and the parts greater than what's come before. It's also largely devoid of the characters that once defined Remy's music; never before have her narratives felt so personal and resonant.
The shimmering "IOU" is both enormous and minute, finding clarity in tracing the contours of lineage: "You shower with your silver on / You brush your hair with a round brush you keep in your bag / And now I do the same." Crucially, Remy's essential principles still shade these intimate stories — as in life, politics seep in through the walls. The money woes of "4 American Dollars" and "Overtime"; the environmental panic of "The Quiver to the Bomb"; and the feminist politic of "State House (It's a Man's World)" break through the haze of memory.
The record's crown jewel — perhaps Remy's greatest achievement to date — is the brief, luminous "Woodstock '99." Interpolating Jimmy Webb's timeless "MacArthur Park," it's a parallel story of two friends, a glittering paean for lost possibility. That it centers on Woodstock's most environmentally damaging and sexually violent year is U.S. Girls encapsulated — there are sharp edges to even the softest ballad.
Heavy Light ends with "Red Ford Radio," arguably the quintessential U.S. Girls song. More than a decade on from its original recording, it remains as primal as ever — drums and voice marching toward some unknown end — though it now speaks to a more elemental fear of a changing planet. It's a claustrophobic cap to a record so imbued with space and light — a reminder that, left unexamined, the mistakes of yesterday are the mistakes of today; that looking back and moving forward are one and the same. That the past is never where you think you left it. (Royal Mountain Records)