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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… L7, Bricks are heavy October 12, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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I never knew that L7 stood for ’square’ in 1950s slang. And yet its snotty nosed meaning is perfect for the group, part heavy metal, part punk, part grunge, part riot grrrl. It’s not themselves they’re describing as square, so it must be… well.. who knows? Those on this side of the Atlantic may recall their famous appearance on that wannabe cultural arbiter The Word. But that was far from the sum total of the group.

Bricks are Heavy was their third album, and arguably their best known, riding parallel to grunge but – to my mind – distinct from it. Sure, they had Butch Vig producing it, but it never sounds like a rip of Nirvana et al, perhaps because it’s so clearly rooted in more traditional metal and punk, even if it’s faster than metal at times, slower than punk. Louder than bombs too, when the mood took them which was pretty much all the time. Their punk/metal hybrid smoothed to a vivid sheen. And metallic it is, surprisingly so for those who are familiar with their earlier output, the pace slows in places but never (or rarely) sludgy. Those of us partial to stoner rock will hear certain connections. But the guitars are busy above and beyond the riffs, with little fills and additional sounds that make it an unexpectedly layered listen. “Mr. Integrity” chuggs along speedily. I kind of like “One More Thing’s” almost Stonesy sounding guitar line which winds up something approaching a ballad (for them) but is built on buzzing guitars, then there’s the steely riff that powers “Wargasm”. Sure, they’re not exactly the Beatles, but they’re catchy tracks.

Vocal duties were taken mostly by Donita Sparks, though bassist Jennifer Finch sings “Everglade” and I think a couple more. The two voices are remarkably similar, but it is Spark’s voice which dominates. That’s somewhere between a rasp and a roar which powers tracks along, with an ability to offer sardonic half spoken/shouted asides aplenty as she goes, as with “Wargasm” and “Mr. Integrity”. Or listen to the world weary, but somehow, audacious swagger of “Pretend We’re Dead”. These aren’t just good, they’re great mythic songs, both primal in terms of sound and nuanced in terms of lyrical content.

And that latter is more often than not political, explicitly so. Both in terms of broader issues and in terms of the personal. Avowedly feminist, sceptical, angry and uncompromising. Targets there are aplenty, squares, the ‘Moral Majority’, militarisation, sexism, domestic abuse, stupid fans and -tellingly – those who are nominally on the same side (“Mr. Integrity”) but are holier than thou about their beliefs. Somehow, perhaps due to that, the often debased coinage of antagonism to authority sounds… well… fresher.

I tend to think all their albums are well worth listening to, the earlier ones for their rawness and angularity, the later ones for the way in which they honed their sound (and I’ve a Donita Sparks solo album from the 2000s which is a great electropop excursion), but this one shines.

Everglade

Pretend We’re Dead

Wargasm

One More Thing

Mr. Integrity

Diet Pill

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