After yet another day of spinning the radio dial trying to find something that wasn’t maudlin-sensitive, neatly wrapped or mind-numbing utterly conservative shit, isn’t it about time to rediscover Bratmobile? After a two-year absence from the musical landscape, the band that was a pivotal force in — and inspiration for the bands that emerged from — riot grrl way back in the ’90s, is back with a full-lunged garage-punk holler called Girls Get Busy. In the context of the rock underground, Bratmobile is still a band that bangs the drum loudly for DIY culture, gender equity, personal accountability and doing what needs to get done to survive in a host culture that tends to shut down nonmainstream channels of communication. And that’s reason enough to pick up Girls Get Busy. But in the context of the larger rock conversation, Bratmobile’s got stories to tell and they tell ’em in mostly compelling ways here by playing the staid musical lingo of rock — and there are riffs here that mine the Zep motherlode.
Singer Allison Wolfe’s nervous monotone alone tells half the Bratmobile story. She toes the line between letting loose the full bluster of her convictions and keeping her cards close to the vest. Somewhere between Ian Curtis and Kim Gordon, Wolfe is the ideal cipher for the personal-unto-political declarations that are Bratmobile’s calling card. The lyrics don’t jump off the page, but they pack an emotional punch, and what might seem trite to the reading eye at first blush is catalyzed through Wolfe’s voice into verse that transcends mere rhetoric.
With their six strings and half-dozen drums, guitarist Erin Smith and drummer Molly Neuman sketch a 30-year tour through rock history in just over 30 minutes. From mid-’60s punk to ’77 punk, new wave to classic rock — it’s economical, powerful and just not familiar enough. There’s no slack, and the addition of Audrey Mars on keyboards and Mary Key on bass brings extra noise and flattering sonic flourishes.
In essence, Bratmobile is doing exactly what it’s done for the past 10 years, but they’re doing it bigger and bolder here.
E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org.