Public Stain, the debut album from Canada’s Women, sounds like listening to old 45s on a cheapo record player. There’s a certain mystique in the sonics of this record — a distant, cavernous, thick, noir atmosphere that becomes as crucial as the instruments/tools used to create the actual music. I thought at first that the oblique postpunk that Women wreak was like Wire playing Sonic Youth songs, but while correct on a surface level, such reductionism doesn’t even come close in capturing the disembodied, free-floating music that Women deal in. There’s plenty of Sonic Youth style tonal manipulation and playing behind the pickups, but this ain’t yer typical self-involved skronk. Hell, the vocals are more redolent of early Mike Love and whiteboy-teenage-doowop-bards like Dion and the Belmonts, while the players rejoice in trancing out on a single, haphazardly played groove, riding it right off Deadman’s Curve.
The hidden delights on this album are many. It’s gutsy to begin an album with a drumless, meditative chamber-skronk lament like “Can’t You See,” but Women win the wary back with the impatient, bug-eyed Gothic grooves of “Heat Distraction.” Then I love how “Narrow with the Hall,” after some galeforce guitar noise, fades out on this perfect, supremely bummed comedown note. The manic Joy Division-meets-hardcore headcharge of “Drag Queen” suddenly dissolves into this fragile, heartfelt coda of spindly guitar figures mirrored by crack’d harmonics, and they entwine around each other over and over again. “Locust Valley” sheds the distortion halfway through, leaving this clear, clean highwire-tense jangle that builds atop grouped falsetto backing vocals and intricate fingerpicking. “Eyesore” is perfect as a closer, a summation of what makes this album so compelling — constantly shifting song structures coalesce from Beach Boys teenage dream to Jam-esque wire-taught rifferama.