Blame George W. Bush. In addition to eight wasted years in the Oval Office, misdirected wars, the failing economy, and the term "shock and awe," you can tack one additional footnote to the seemingly endless legacy of the Bush administration: the Coathangers.
Formed in a van en route to a Washington D.C. anti-Bush protest—at least the Bush Doctrine was responsible for one worthwhile thing—this female quartet arrived back in their Atlanta hometown as a band, and one with a flinch-inducing moniker. The Coathangers' name conjures the more brutal end of the abortion lexicon—as well as the nearly-as-unfortunate sexist label for girls at hardcore punk shows (the ones holding their boyfriends' hoodies while they mosh)—a startling first impression cemented by the band's gnashed-tooth display of post-riot grrrl punk. Beyond the name—"A blatant abortion reference," according to guitarist Julia Kugel—the Coathangers find themselves atop the pile of a contentious genre that has been somewhat dormant in recent years.
Their Suicide Squeeze debut, Scramble, skillfully balances two distinct styles: goofy playfulness and a veracious fuck-you-let's-fight call to arms (and fists). Their mischievous side is best evident on songs like "Stop Stomp Stompin'," a bratty call-and-response ultimatum directed at a noisy upstairs neighbor ("I don't need an alarm clock, because I got your feet"), or the bouncy "Pussywillow," with its despondently chirped chorus: "This means nothing to you. It means nothing to me, too."
The other, significantly darker, side of the Coathangers is where Scramble feels most natural, and where the riot-grrrl comparisons come into play. Singing duties are split between the four members—Kugel, Candice Jones (keyboard), Stephanie Luke (drums), Meredith Franco (bass)—and their unruly, overlapping vocal deliveries add a deep, jittery urgency to the band's message. As far as harnessing the purity and rage of the riot grrrl sound, the Coathangers are the real Janelles. Far less dire than the first guard—there is no "And I Live in a Town Where the Boys Amputate Their Hearts," or "Anti-Pleasure Dissertation," here—the Coathangers carve their niche by complementing the screams of their thrashing party anthem "Arthritis Sux," with the vulnerable charm of songs like "Sonic You." Theirs is a sharp aural bludgeoning, immediately followed by a tender embrace.
Once the tenderness subsides, the Coathangers' unfuckwithable reputation is clear: Do not cross this band. Proof of this sits on stage, as drummer Stephanie Luke resides behind a rescued—or stolen, depending on your definition—drum kit: "One of our friends had taken her BMX bike and never returned it," explains Kugel. "So as payback, we lifted his old drum set from him while he wasn't home, with some help from his girlfriend. Somehow he never questioned us about it."
Scramble is a genuine addition to the grrrl punk canon, one best explained by Kugel: "[We're] not exactly an evolution, but an extension of the movement. Obviously those bands had to exist in order for us to be able to do what we do; they had to be political, aware, and serious." She continues, "The Coathangers' attitude is more playful, the goal being to include and encourage the audience, not necessarily to inform or change their social and political awareness. The personal is always political, though, and hopefully we are doing the grrrl movement justice by representing a sincere collectivism within the band."