Feminist rockers Le Tigre score with “This Island”
Electronic feminist punk trio Le Tigre has caused some buzz by sampling sneak peeks of their just released CD, “This Island.”
And if the crowd that showed up at the legendary music venue Don Hill’s this September 22 was any indication, Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman and J.D. Samson have a first-rate hit on their hands.
After five years as New York’s darlings with a strong underground following, the ladies of Le Tigre are set up to take the world by storm with some of the best politically-charged music of this decade.
The group’s sound has one foot firmly rooted in punk, the other in electronica, with, as their lyrics attest to, “high hats and clap tracks in every beat.”
The title cut, “This Island,” is a surefire winner, simple but beautiful, with a slight finish of Peaches. It is an anthem for all New York artists, a plea for sanity and a song of a city rising stronger than ever from the ashes. The lines “Rent’s high, and the war’s on/ and it’s last call/ even your friends look worried,” capture the balance of terror and humor that embodies life in New York City.
“This island where we live without a/c is the city where we learned about painting… For break-ups, bad lucks, shock of the lost twins/ The horizon’s like, a ship in flames tonight,” sings Fateman, and you almost want to cry. Instead, you have to just “keep on livin’” to borrow a track from their previous album, “Feminist Sweepstakes.”
Another winner is “Tell You Now,” produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars fame. A wood block lays down a steady bass line, and distorted electric guitar sounds are gradually added, building up to a crescendo. Hanna sings, “I’ll just tell you now/ ‘Cuz I don’t think you know/ The things you tried to kill/ I found a way to grow.” She goes on to read—in the “Paris is Burning” sense of that word—the recipient of the song, who obviously did her wrong, who “didn’t do a thing/ ‘Cept make me hate myself.” With the song’s haunted vocals and punk edge, it rocks in the purest sense of the word.
Fateman gets another chance to turn it out later on the album with “Sixteen,” a xylophone-heavy, sexy track that evokes the soundtrack of a David Mamet film, very chick rock meets “The Spanish Prisoner.”
Before Le Tigre began, Hanna fronted for the band Bikini Kill. As she tells it, Fateman approached her after a show to share her ‘zine’, and the two became friends. Later they began to collaborate, picking up video maker Sadie Benning as a third. After Benning left, J.D. Samson, a former techie for the band, stepped in and the rest is history.
The combination is a perfect breeding ground for such politically charged songs as “Seconds,” in which they point the finger at Pres. George W. Bush, singing, “Your dad’s money’s too base to mention/His coattails are looking worn/ You’ve had a nice ride that’s for sure… Stole the race no surprise there/The elevator always beats the stairs.”
Another prime example is the mélange that is “New Kicks,” a blend of recorded anti-war speeches by Susan Sarandon, Al Sharpton and others, woven together with drum tracks to form a very solid protest song. It is this album’s answer to the “Feminist Sweepstakes” cut “Dyke March.”
Samson makes her voice heard loud and clear with “Viz,” a pointed and sexy riff about lesbian visibility verses “lesbian chic.” She sets the scene of going out for a night at the club, where a straight girl dances up to her and starts flirting. Samson turns her down to jump around with another butch. Like most Le Tigre songs, “Viz” relies on repetitive choruses to anchor the song, and this one’s a winner: “They call it climbing, and I call it visibility/ They call it coolness, and I call it visibility/ They call it way too rowdy, I call it finally free.” I first heard “Viz” at the Wedrock benefit at Crobar in April and was instantly hooked.
Another preview at the Crobar party was the band’s cover of the Pointer Sisters’ anthem, “I’m So Excited.” Le Tigre gives this new classic a nice turn, combining irony and humor with one of the seminal tunes of the ‘80s. It is as good now as it was then.
“This Island” was co-produced with Nicholas Sansano, who worked with Sonic Youth and Public Enemy, and the professional edge shows. Fans of Le Tigre who pick up “This Island” for the consistent quality they churn out will not be disappointed.