The debut Petrol Girls single five years ago was a molotov cocktail with a match to go, quite literally, since the cover was exactly that, with the band’s name etched into the bottle. But more than that, the imagery perfectly matched a self-described “raging feminist post-hardcore” band that was long on enthusiasm and short on patience. Burn it down, all of it; revolution ain’t never been simple.
The fury from the fourseome: bassist Liepa Kuraitė, guitarist Joe York, drummer Zock Astpai, and frontwoman Ren Aldridge, continued with the debut full-length, a call to arms appropriately named Talk of Violence. However, last year’s The Future is Dark EP showed musical maturity and personal introspection, an excellent transition to the band’s revelation of an album Cut & Stitch.
Refused has always been an influence on Petrol Girls, so it’s appropriate to state that this is their Shape of Punk to Come. Dismiss such a claim as press release hyperbole at your own peril. Both releases added textures that expanded upon hardcore’s rudimentaries, showing an ability to think outside the box.
On Cut & Stitch, Aldridge is confident enough in her ideas that she doesn’t have to scream them all the time. On the 75-second “Intro” while the band’s feedback builds to a crescendo, she quietly intones what sound means to her. It is the first of many times she allows her nearly spoken word to deliver her message.
The album flows through a handful of “Interlude” tracks that introduce different parts of the album, each one prettier than the one before it. The first one, “Interlude (Q&A),” is a sedate, acoustic moment that could be a sample from some hippie band, even though it’s not, and it leads into “Big Mouth,” which features a real sample.
“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard,” says the late X-Ray Spex vocalist Poly Styrene, as she said on their first single, “but I think, UP YOURS!” Her message of rebellion is still just as valid and necessary today; it fits in perfectly with the tenor and timbre of the track. It is also completely infectious, with a huge chorus perfect for empowering a new generation of girls.
The band has many more moments that are accessible enough that it’s not hard to envision commercial, alternative radio stations playing them. “No Love For A Nation” is one of them, which has York delivering a huge riff as he turns the track into a duet with Aldridge, both of them singing relatively melodiously. It is slick, syncopated, offbeat, and simple-yet-effective, and ends with ironic kazoos lampooning “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and likely the country it was written for. It’s brilliant.
Petrol Girls don’t completely abandon the vitriolic side of the band. Album opener “The Sound” thrashes furiously and righteously. But in other cases, it is merely a facet of a song: The bright chorus of “Tangle of Lives” is contrasted with slow, nearly jazzy bridges; “Monstrous” and “Talk in Tongues,” the latter seeing York take over lead vocals, swing like they came off the last Brutus album.
Despite everything else, the biggest departure has to be “Skye.” Against a minor key, Aldridge lovingly opens up about her dog of the same name. Towards the end, the guitar decays to near silence, leaving her to practically whisper, “My fingers left your coarse fur as you exhaled forever” about when she had to put her pet to sleep. Even while taking on the patriarchy, she can take the time to beautifully soliloquize her lost puppy.
A lot of things have to happen for a band to emerge from a niche genre and capture mainstream attention, not the least of which is luck. All you can expect from the band is to have a vision and to fearlessly execute it and hope that people notice. On Cut & Stitch, Petrol Girls more than did their part.