There aren't many bands as confounding as Women. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, the band—made up of four lifelong friends, two of them brothers and none of them women—seems to take the shape of your typical guitar-centered indie rock band. But Women are impossible to pin down. In the studio, members swap instruments and tunes take drastically altered forms, while song craft is jettisoned as the band follows ideas to fully formed and entirely unexpected conclusions. Says guitarist Pat Flegel, "We definitely don't make any decisions based on what people will like, that's for sure."
Pat and Matt Flegel, along with guitarist Chris Reimer and drummer Mike Wallace, recorded Women's self-titled debut with fellow Calgary musician Chad VanGaalen, using VanGaalen's fabled ghetto blaster as a recording device. "The track that sounds the biggest—the first track—was recorded directly into a fucking tape deck," Pat tells me. "And the other stuff was recorded on a really nice tape machine and we put a lot of effort into it and it sounds way worse, it's hilarious."
Women is a puzzling, provoking listen that escapes genre, giving sweet narcotic hits of pop song even as it pulls the rug out. "Cameras" could be a Joe Meek production from the Sputnik era, but then "Lawncare" lurches into a Liars-esque Drum's Not Dead tribal thump. "Woodbine" is a crystalline drone from which "Black Rice" emerges, a melodic, fully formed pop song that evokes a drowsy, grungier Beach Boys. "Sag Harbor Bridge" is a bunch of difficult time signatures caught in a blender, while "Group Transport Hall" crams a full album's worth of hooks into one minute.
And that's just the first half of an incredibly rewarding album that scrambles through low-fi tape hiss, guitar riffage, zombie choirs, atonal noise rock, menacing jams, pulsating horror movie soundtracks, and free jazz whirlwinds. In 30 short minutes, Women makes the sonic exploration of a band like Radiohead look rote and conventional—and does so while never shaking loose the comforting cloak of melody.
"I definitely like the pop shit to be in the context of all that noisy stuff," Pat says. "It just makes it feel better. It's just what we wanted to do—and we didn't even know what we were doing."
Bandmates Reimer and Wallace also do time as auxiliary members of Azeda Booth, another Calgary group whose electronica-flavored In Flesh Tones is a gorgeous, fantastic record. "They're really, really amazing to me," agrees Pat. "I feel like their album is really good and that it's underrated, overlooked." With this association, and Women's relationship with VanGaalen—who released his own excellent Soft Airplane a couple months ago—I ask Pat if he thinks Calgary's music scene has developed its own identity.
"The only thing that gives that [idea] any kind of form is this younger band called the Neighbourhood Council," he says. "I don't know how much they practice but it's just insane how good they are live. If anything solidifies the idea that anything is going on, it's those guys tying everyone together. There's another band called the Ostrich, which is nothing like the other bands—this post-punk magic, they're so fucking good, but they just broke up. But it's definitely a community, everybody knows everybody. Coming from a city that no one gives a shit about for good reason, it's kind of interesting."