All Girl Action

Welcome, 6 to 9 (on average!) readers! And for those of you who found this post whilst searching for porn, I welcome you as well. We’ll just pretend you planned to come here today.

I listen to a shitload of music, most of which (but not all) I write about on this site. I try to write about music that interests me or that I know I will love or that I have a perverse (and sometimes masochistic) need to listen to, even if I know it will suck. Looking back on 2008 so far, I see that I haven’t reviewed too many albums by female artists. This is not because I’m a raging (or even “casual”) misogynist; I’m a staff of one man and an Imaginary Secretary, which means I find out about albums, try to hear them, forget about them, realize I haven’t written about them, and then write about them. Maybe. Every year there are many high profile releases by women that are utter rubbish but nonetheless get tons of attention. I’m talking about your Beyonces and Kelly Clarksons here – I’m not going to review those albums on this site because I know I will hate them and I’ve already committed to publicly despising Metallica. Taking on more outlets for my rage would be superfluous at this point.

Having said that, there are some great releases by women floating around right now: Dressy Bessy just put out a new album, Shannon McArdle (from the Mendoza Line) put out a great solo album, Ani DiFranco released one this week, and I’m pretty excited to hear the Leila Arab album, even though the style is not typically my cup of tea.

Usually, when Dressy Bessy puts out an album, I get it. I own three of their records and won’t apologize for liking them. But this year, something different(ish) caught my eye: Portland’s All Girl Summer Fun Band (featuring Kathy Foster from the Thermals!). Their new album is called Looking Into It, and it’s worth looking into.

Upon first listen, Looking Into It sounds a lot like anything Dressy Bessy has done (if you’re only gonna hear one DB album, it should be their self-titled album from 2003), but the trio of Jen Sbragia (bass), the afore-mentioned Foster (drums) and Kim Baxter (guitars – all three do vocals) have a more varied pop sensibility than Tammy Ealom and company. Looking Into It roars to life with “Not the One for Me,” and the deliciously ironic “Something New” (“Everyone wants something new/ what’s familiar just won’t do”  is a great line for an album as old-school as this),  and those two tracks don’t do much to dispel the myth that AGSFB is interchangeable with Dressy Bessy.

As with Dressy Bessy, All Girl Summer Fun Band’s fuzzy guitars and bashing drums are a blast on their own.  But in the middle of Looking Into It, AGSFB packs some surprises, adding some texture that is not usually present (nor frequently missed) on Dressy Bessy albums. There is one of the best pop songs I’ve hears all year smack dab in the middle of Looking Into It: “The Only Ones,” with its infectious chorus of “We are the only ones alive.” The guitars are cleaner, the cymbals crashier, and the hook is undeniable. “The Only Ones,” is The Beatles where most of Looking Into It is The Ramones (not a bad thing at all).  It’s crisp and refreshing like a good white wine, and it sets the stage for Kathy Foster’s lead vocal turn on “Rewind,” which I’m just gonna pretend is about Kurt Vonnegut, perhaps because it encapsulates – perfectly – how I felt when Vonnegut died: “Just what am I supposed to do now/ Where will I get all my answers from?” There’s also a line about “all the books that you left behind.” So I’m not completely off-base in my interpretation.  In any case, “Rewind” is a lovely balladish tune that doesn’t have time (at not quite 2 and a half minutes) to get sentimental in a stupid way.

If you’re going to basically take some of the most tried and true stuff in music (The Beatles and The Ramones) and make an album of stuff that sounds like that, you have to know that brevity is the soul of wit. Looking Into It is plenty brief and plenty witty. Take this winner from “Plastic Toy Dream”: “I know a recipe for making plastic toys/ It’s eight parts irony and two parts little boy”.  Looking Into It has the feel of three friends rocking out in a basement – it’s fast, loose, loud, and fun. But Sbragia, Baxter, and Foster elevate Looking Into It beyond merely a pretty-amusing lark. They have crafted a really great summer pop album… or, say, a good disc to pop in the rental car as I cruise I-5 in the dead of night, heading from Portland to Eugene for the bestest fest ever.

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