It’s very hard for punk bands to burn brightly forever. They flare up at the time that they are needed, and remain on that pedestal. Short band lengths are common, and in the rare cases in which punk bands keep going, they fade into the background or there’s the Sleater-Kinneys or the Fugazis who develop their sound to remain relevant. Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox, who both performed in Bikini Kill, one of the most important punk bands ever, have made The Julie Ruin – along with the rest of their band – ‘relevant’. Hit Reset, along with their debut album, exists somewhere between Bikini Kill and Hanna’s second-most-famous band, Le Tigre, which infused electronica into their punk. So, where there’s furious guitars and confrontational lyrics, there’s also a synth meltdown. It’s dance-punk at its finest.
The song of the album title opens the album with one of the best songs on the entire record. Hanna has said that though she has previously talked about abusive relationships, especially with fathers, it has never gone as personal as ‘Hit Reset’, which goes into fine details about her childhood home and the constant fear. The first verse is ‘Deer hooves hanging on the wall / Shell casings in the closet hall / Drunk from a mug shaped like a breast / Punching the people he loves best’, which is a fairly terrifying way to open an album that has the musical energy of a hyper child. Even when Hanna’s confronting childhood demons, there’s pulsating synths and relentless drums from Carmine Covelli. It’s a middle finger to the notion that serious lyrics has to go with serious music, or over-the-top synth-pop has to be lyrically dull. It reminds me of The Julie Ruin’s labelmates Tacocat and their enthusiasm for hyper-colourful punk.
‘Mr. So And So’ is hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time. The lyrics could have easily fit onto a Bikini Kill song, but the synth freakout makes it a song that could have only been done by The Julie Ruin. The gist of the song is about a male feminist who can’t get a grasp on what it actually means, and ‘it’s just for show’. The idea is that people don’t get a feminist certificate when they feel they’ve contributed to it, it’s always a work in progress – there’s no end-goal. It’s also a criticism of part-time feminism by men: ‘I’ll show your autograph at my women’s studies class / without hearing what the teacher has to say’. The song has one of the most traditional punky sounds with its guitar riff that sounds like something Sleater-Kinney put on their last album (there’s also a Sleater-Kinney reference?), but maybe ‘Hello Trust No One’ has the catchiest guitar on Hit Reset. That, plus the group vocals and the cheerful synths, once again puts a bright grin on the face of real issues that are being addressed.
Like we said at the beginning, it’s hard for punk bands to remain relevant forever. Could you imagine Bikini Kill still going today? Maybe, maybe not. But by constantly adapting to the trends and issues that are relevant, The Julie Ruin are a complete necessity. Similar to their Hardly Art friends Tacocat and Chastity Belt, there’s a effort, conscious or not, to make music that will put a smile on your face whilst getting stuck into some real talk. Punk doesn’t have to take itself so seriously, and that’s just fine.
Funnel Recommends: Hit Reset / I Decide / Hello Trust No One