Before playing the Feminists’ latest release, She Could Be, the listener is confronted with a question: printed in the a lonely blank space beneath the CD are the words “Who cares?” This phrase hangs like spectre over the content of the whole album, setting the tone for one of the best releases by an independent Canadian band this year.
But beware: throughout the record, the Feminists don’t seem content to answer anything. Instead, they constantly ask the listener to solve the problems themselves. Opening track, “Brand New Common Sense” sarcastically evades the weight of their question, as the Feminists introduce themselves to the listener with a series of casually eerie lyrics like, “All the good kids become shooting stars/Everybody else dies in their cars/That’s fine.”
So what exactly do the Feminists care about? According to the band, each member is “in blind lust with rock music,” and this seems to fit the bill pretty well. Each song is full-steam ahead, relenting only in moments carefully placed to make it that much more dramatic when they turn up the volume again. But the Feminists are a far cry from an aimless rock band. They retain the melodic sensibilities of Vancouver brethren the New Pornographers, and they’re lyrically much more challenging than any of their Canadian competitors.
Lead singer Keith Grief constantly treads the boundary between stability and chaos, his voice gently soothing the microphone one second, and hollering with an angry urgency the next, asking the listener weighted questions like, “Don’t you know what the radio’s for?” Like the music, Grief’s lyrics fluctuate between sympathy and the violence of rock ‘n roll. In “Las Vegas Breakdown” he proclaims, “nobody moves and nobody gets hurt,” before tenderly crooning, “Let’s talk about the way you crumbled apart.” One moment he’s announcing that “nothing’s gonna be alright,” and the next he’s repeatedly begging the listener to “tell me what this black heart’s beating for.”
She Could Be avoids categorization, both musically and ideologically. The band dabbles with genres just as freely as they experiment with their political messages. But they are undoubtedly a rock band, and though they may not have the commercial appeal of their colleagues, and they may not lay the answers at your feet, when the songs are this good, who cares?