As musicians make the ascent from basements to bars, from smoky clubs to raucous concert halls and from talented expressers to exemplary leaders, they amass a catalogue of sound that spans and defines a generation.
But there comes a time in every musician’s career when they must sift through the sounds that defined them and choose between a newer, progressive style, or the flavor that brought them to the dance in the first place.
Never has that conflict been more clear than with riot grrrl foremother Kathleen Hanna’s latest project, The Julie Ruin, as Hanna shows glimmers from each stylistic phase of her two-decade career.
A call back to a mostly overlooked 1997 solo album Hanna released using the alter-ego Julie Ruin,
The Julie Ruin sees Hanna reunite with former Bikini Kill bassist Kathi Wilcox, as well as new members Carmine Covelli (drums), Sara Landeau (guitar) and Kenny Mellman (piano).
Their debut album, “Run Fast,” released Sept. 3 on the band’s own TJR Records, is a 13-song encapsulation of Hanna’s entire legacy. It is the album where Hanna’s two most popular ventures, feminist punk group Bikini Kill and electroclash group Le Tigre, converge.
The album’s first single, “Oh Come On,” fleshes out a fuzzy, garage rock sound that would make any Buzzcocks fan pine for the good old tunes held together by one delightfully simple chord.
The other cut that got attention online and on notable independent stations, “Ha Ha Ha,” sets the precedent for the record, with an infectious, synth-driven structure fit for any dance floor.
Other cuts from the album fit this Le Tigre-esque vein, like “Cookie Road,” “Right Home” and “Party City,” complete with Hanna’s intense vocals driving the music’s synthetic, bassy groove.
To keep the music contemporary, Hanna even sneaks a lyric about her iPhone into “Cookie Road,” a cheeky move that feels so clearly not punk rock.
The Bikini Kill throwbacks come in the form of quick yet catchy straight punk gems like “Stop Stop,” leaving a listener with a sense that if Bikini Kill had continued to evolve, this would be their sound today.
As much as “Run Fast” tries to build on a few proven formulas, The Julie Ruin’s most captivating sound is an entirely new one.
Slow-burners like “Just My Kind,” “Look Out” and the album’s title track touch on a sound straight out of the 1970s with Hanna channeling an uncharacteristically soft, love-pop side in her vocals.
Mellman adds a spirited touch of cabaret-esque piano that really sets these tracks apart from the album’s other more synth-heavy cuts.
Although he provides backing vocals for most of the album, Mellman shares the spotlight with Hanna for a duet on “South Coast Plaza,” an upbeat tale about a romance spent in a tree house in Orange County.
As a whole, “Run Fast” is a testament to experimentation and to how artists, even those 20 years in the game, need not shy away from uncharted territories. Hanna went from a righteously hardcore punk in 1990 to churning out songs that sounded closer to Lesley Gore tributes in 2013.
Even though at times her varied sound leaves this album feeling disjointed, the overall message was one of adaptability, as feminist rebel Kathleen Hanna continues adapting to a constantly evolving music industry.
“Run Fast” is available for download on iTunes and Amazon.
Des Delgadillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.