Meghan Remy, mastermind behind the experimental pop project U.S. Girls, has been on a trajectory of constant evolution since she began releasing music under her deceptive moniker in 2008. On Bless This Mess, the Chicago-born singer-songwriter dives into an elaborate fantasia constructed through retro, dance-flavored pop, with the therapeutic vulnerability of 2020’s Heavy Light and the dark emotional complexity of 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited seeming like blurry memories — sufficiently worked through and left in a less-than-pleasant past.
Remy opens Bless This Mess with the glutinous disco groove of “Only Daedalus,” where she finds herself trapped in the labyrinth constructed by the titular mythological architect who also happens to be a particularly controlling lover: “You can’t invent my love / And you can’t hide me away.” Unimpressed with his creation, she quips, “You’re good with your hands / But where’s your soul?” before segueing into a cool chorus where she reminds her partner that “under the street there is a beach,” a line repurposed from a May 68 slogan which, at the time, was regularly spray-painted throughout France.
Throughout, this new, more outwardly exuberant emotional register shimmers with the danceable, luxuriously throw-back sheen of contemporary pop music, exemplified by the likes of Beyoncé and Dua Lipa, whose last albums appropriated the sounds blaring out of discothèques in the ’70s and ’80s. “Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo),” for instance, is a funky goofball ditty in which Remy takes on the POV of a frustrated tuxedo, sick of wasting away in its owner’s closet. The track is the record’s indisputable highlight, Remy firing on all cylinders while still sneaking in some sly, if not exactly novel, social commentary: “I was your passport to so many rooms / Your mask of pure exclusivity / Now you treat me like a long gone novelty / A costume, is that how you see me?“
The only drawback to the track’s explosive flurry of synthesizers, handclaps, vocoded backing vocals, and absurdly humorous lyrics is that it completely overshadows the rest of the LP. The more subdued “R.I.P Roy G. Biv” follows “Tux” and tries its hand at a similar brand of whimsy, relaying a fantasy tale of a rainbow paramour, “Roy G. Biv” referencing the acronym for the hues that make up a rainbow. Unfortunately, Remy and guest vocalist Marker Staling fail to pull off the tune’s silly central metaphor, an act made nearly impossible by the track’s plodding pace.
Similarly, “Futures Bet” opens, intriguingly enough, with thick, distorted guitar chords and a riff which, for reasons unclear, plays the first few notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but it quickly falls apart amidst an aimless, bland melody and trite lyrical truisms like, “When nothing is wrong / Everything is fine / This is just life” — shockingly uninspired toss-off, especially considering the gorgeous, challenging work Remy is capable of creating. It’s true: nothing on Bless This Mess reaches the depth of, say, “M.A.H.,” a track which provocatively took on Obama’s drone warfare and public image — “As you were the first in line to use those bugs up high / The coward’s weapon of choice / But you got that winner’s smile / And you know how to leave ’em moist” — but balanced its incendiary politics with a varied sonic architecture, Remy making use of an arcade of different textures and instruments.
By contrast, Bless This Mess — an uncharacteristically “Live, Laugh, Love”-esque album title for the songwriter — feels less diverse than slightly disjointed. The penultimate “Pump” — a reference to breast pumps, Remy having recently given birth to twins — starts promisingly, with a steady electro pulse propelling the song into its first verse. But the song’s eye-rolling wordplay — “My first child was two / Talking ’bout two babies at once” — quickly puts a damper on the cut’s otherwise elegantly assembled nu-disco swagger. The pivot into spoken word on the prophetically-titled “Outro (The Let Down)” ends things on a whimper, as Remy spells out the album’s already clearly articulated themes in a thuddingly literal manner.
The last few years have seen pop music, and a sizable amount of supposedly alternative music as well, become obsessed with producing “bangers” — hook-filled, club-ready, singable, vaguely empowering — often at the cost of sonic and thematic intricacy, so perhaps seeing this turn for the prosaic isn’t exactly surprising. It’s a shame, though, because whenever Bless This Mess unshackles itself from the demands of contemporary pop aesthetics, it offers plenty of playfulness, weird ideas, and infectious melodies. But too often, Remy’s natural songwriting talent gets bogged down by her incessant need to sound timely, something which her previous work never seemed all that concerned with. One hopes that this isn’t the beginning of Remy’s descent into the musical ghetto of algorithm pop — if nothing else, Bless This Mess‘ best moments prove that she is way too good for that.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 9.