Heavy Light has all the elements of a good musical: exciting dance numbers, heartwarming sentimental moments, and some spot-on social commentary.
Over the last decade, U.S. Girls has commanded the spotlight for producing blockbuster album after blockbuster album. Meg Remy’s writing hasn’t stuck to a singular hit album formula, however. Instead, she seems to embrace evolution from album to album: from the project’s roots as a bedroom noise project, to Half Free’s sample-based art pop songs, to In a Poem Unlimited’s big funk ensemble. On Heavy Light, their latest offering, Remy retains U.S. Girls’ classic elements (evocative storytelling, groovy rhythms, and an all-star cast of Toronto musicians) while continuing to evolve and grow into her sound.
Heavy Light’s instrumentation strips back and focuses on layered percussive textures and piano, accompanied by choral arrangements featuring Basia Bulat, James Baley, Dorothea Paas, and Kritty Uranowski. The result is a highly dramatic, musical theatre-like soundtrack to the spectacle of present-day capitalism.
The album opens with “4 American Dollars”, a lively funk number about the myth of upwards mobility that’s set to start off any dance party. It’s followed by a new version of “Overtime”, originally appearing on Free Advice Column, in which the narrator tells the story of her dead alcoholic partner to an infectiously pounding beat. The original percussiveness of the track is still there in addition to more funk-centric instrumentation and a stellar saxophone solo.
The B side opens with “And Yet It Moves / Y Se Muevo”, an upbeat samba number in Spanish and in English. Through its refrain “It’s two shapes at once, a circle and square!” the song highlights the current polarity in today’s politics and the way in which fake news can split society into two realities. For all the upbeat numbers, Heavy Light has a lot of quieter, more introspective songs such as “Denise Don’t Wait” and “Woodstock ‘99”, which feel like cabaret numbers best enjoyed on a bare stage with only a piano and a single spotlight. These torch songs bring a greater sense of intimacy than U.S. Girl’s previous work.
Personal struggles are often woven into the album’s broader political themes. The radio plays spread throughout describe personal moments in the lives of the cast of U.S. Girls — the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to them; advice to their teenage selves; tiny details such as the colour of their childhood bedroom — incarnating the idea of the personal as political.
Heavy Light has all the elements of a good musical: exciting dance numbers, heartwarming sentimental moments, and some spot-on social commentary. Once again, Meg Remy brings together a collage of fascinating voices and talented musicians, vintage textures and modern themes for an end-of-the-world dance party.