U.S. Girls, the experimental art-pop project of Toronto-based musician Meg Remy, has never been easy to pin down; shifting and evolving their sound with each album while Remy explores and toys with the nature and content of pop songwriting. That continues to prove the case on their latest full-length, the bright and funky Bless This Mess. Pieced together with a number of co-conspirators both new and old in the U.S. Girls fold, Remy delivers one of her most contemporary-sounding records yet while largely remaining true to her distinct artistic spirit.
In concept, if the album cover didn’t tip you off, Bless This Mess is centered around Remy’s recent pregnancy and the birth of her twin sons. She’s spoken about the way her changing body affected her approach to singing and the sound of her voice, and there are songs that find her pondering the intricacies of motherhood and the myriad of questions it brings up. This is presented most prominently and directly on closer “Pump,” a neon-funk ode to pumping breast milk, but also on “Futures Bet” where she explores what it means to be continuing the chain of life, stating simply “I’m you/You’re me/This is the way it’s got to be/Breathing in breathing out” before declaring “I’m laying down a futures bet!/There’s always gonna be someone alive/Someone wanting to know why”. Later on in the ‘80s balladry of the title track, finding holiness in the chaos, Remy sings that “there’s nothing unnatural under the sun/Everyone’s a baby at the start of this run.”
But a straightforward album about motherhood this is not; Remy has too much on her mind to limit herself to even such a significant subject. Across this record, she muses on technology, desire, class, myth, and the cosmos and the ways they all intertwine, and she takes a different approach with each song. There’s the sweet, straightforward, and immensely catchy “Screen Face”, a duet with singer-songwriter Michael Rault about the pains and disappointments of pandemic-era Zoom dates (“Your phone is dying/And I’m dying too/Dying to touch you/Dying to be in the same room), but also “St. James Way” which feels almost cinematic in the way it sets the stage – “The car pulled up/The driver spoke out/’I’m ready to believe though I still have my doubts’” – before spinning out into thought-provoking surrealism.
Despite its varied attentions and wide range of collaborators, Bless This Mess never really feels disjointed. There is an energetic throughline that guides the music even as its shapes and colors change, and some expert sequencing keeps things ebbing, flowing, and expanding at the perfect pace. The record opens on the funky strut of “Only Daedalus”, which feels like a ‘90s R&B tune revamped for the modern disco era, and moves on to “Just Space For Light”, a cover of a song by Remy’s partner Max Turnbull’s jazz fusion outfit Badge Époque Ensemble. U.S. Girls’ version of the tune strips it back instrumentally and turns it into a delirious bit mesh of funky psychedelic pop full of grimy electric keys and synths along with some P-Funk-style backing vocals. “Futures Bet” and “So Typically Now” steer things into a more electronic direction; the former’s pulsating pop giving way to the dancefloor synth grooves of the latter while Remy sings about selling off your condo and moving upstate over a tune that has only grown catchier since its release last summer.
Remy’s voice does a lot with a little all over this record, never going for big moments but imbuing each song and phrase with her distinct personality and presence. See the deadpan way she delivers “Brooklyn’s dead/And Kingston’s booming” at the top of “So Typically Now”, or the flirtatious charm she brings to “Screen Face”, or the spoken word intro of “Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo),” which kicks off with the album’s back half in a moment of glorious widescreen disco. Full of desire, longing, and plenty of innuendoes, Remy sings with winking humor from the perspective of a man’s discarded tuxedo. It’s a moment of silly glittery fun, leaving behind the politics or worldly considerations that seep into even U.S. Girls’ most pop-leaning tracks, that feels both uncharacteristic and exciting.
“St. James Way” flips things in the other direction with perhaps the biggest aesthetic left turn on the record as the song’s galactic concerns are met with a brilliant arrangement of swirling psychedelic folk, its acoustic guitar strum opening up into a full dream-pop starscape. The aforementioned “Pump” brings things to a more danceable close before Remy spells out her concerns on the spoken word outro track. “Bodies, birth, death, machines. Those are four immense things we have in common” she explains over croaking bass synths, sending the message out to each and every person listening as her voice lowers to a whisper and the keys fade out.
With Bless This Mess U.S. Girls have crafted yet another remarkably solid piece of captivating and provocative pop music. As her collaborators push her into the new sonic territory, Meg Remy is still at the center, pulling the strings and owning the show; her creative vision, personality, and knack for melody guide this project smoothly along its course from beginning to end. These songs find her shaping her thoughts on motherhood, romance, the universe, and death into some of the most accessible music of her career, telling the tales of our bodies and what comes after in a mesh of psychedelic funk and earworm hooks.