Before streaming, buying a new record used to be a crapshoot. The artist and label sold the listener an album based upon a single, or two if you’re lucky, and off you went to buy the album. If you hit the jackpot, plenty of other songs fit alongside those attractive singles. So often, it went the other way, though.
With Bless This Mess, the latest from U.S. Girls, ‘Futures Bet’ is that remarkable single. A slow groover not unlike the sound that St. Vincent explored on Masseducation, ‘Futures Bet’ is a helluva teaser. But the rest of Bless This Mess lives up to its name.
“Predictable” is never a word associated with Meg Remy’s long-running project, U.S. Girls, and her latest, Bless This Mess, is anything but. Now on her eighth album as the ever-evolving U.S. Girls venture, which encourages more collaboration with each release, Remy stays out of the studio in favor of lockdown home sessions. Recorded during pregnancy and after the birth of her twins, Remy works with producer husband Slim Twig and some heavy-hitting industry-favored mixing engineers.
The result? Bless This Mess is somehow overly glossy and completely undercooked.
Since signing with 4AD, Baird has become a critical darling. All three albums released on the London-based label have garnered Polaris Prize and Juno Award noms, and five short years ago, Paste named U.S. Girls the best live act on the road. Maybe that’s where the songs on Bless This Mess are best experienced.
What does work on the album are the funk and disco numbers that equate to half of the record’s songs. After exploring these genres on her past few albums, there’s no doubt that Remy has figured out the boogie of it all. ‘Only Daedalus’ kicks off Bless This Mess with a funk bang that flirts with a city pop edge. Referencing the mythological Greek architect constructing life’s unexpected turns while featuring a synth solo that sounds as if Back in the High Life era Steve Winwood stopped by for a cup of tea is one of the album’s shining moments.
‘Just Space For Light’ keeps up the strong start and wouldn’t be out of place on Tennis’s fantastic latest album from just a few weeks ago. ‘So Typically Now’ explores a retro AOR sound that is present throughout the album, and the Hot Chip-esque hook snuggles nicely in your brain. But even the funk runs out of steam on ‘Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo)’, a six-and-a-half minute tune that overstays its welcome with quasi-algorithm-driven soul ala Silk Sonic.
The rest of Bless This Mess is an odds and sods collection that demonstrates this maybe would work better as two different projects. ‘Screen Face’ is sleep-inducing MIDI-based reggae and wastes a duet with Michael Rault, who otherwise has produced a top-notch solo career. While the title track is lyrically first class, as are they throughout the record, we end up with a sleepy ballad that drifts in one ear and out the other without much-staying power.
‘RIP Roy G Biv’ also suffers from being stuck in first gear, this time with a repetitive Wurlitzer progression that encourages slumber. ‘Pump’ starts as one of the most engaging experiments on the album, with Baird sampling a breast pump woven into a silken bassline about a bewildering encounter with trying to feed infants. Unfortunately, the song ends with three minutes of grating spoken word that finishes Bless This Mess on a sour note.
Returning to the idea that these songs may need to be heard in their live setting, Bless This Mess’s sonics passed through many hands before arriving at the final result we take in here. We’re talking Grammy Award winners and nominees who have worked with Outkast, Tyler, The Creator, Weezer, and an endless list of chart-topping names. But maybe the slick format doesn’t work for U.S. Girls.
Bless This Mess may have worked better with a subject as intimate and life-changing as pregnancy and motherhood if Remy and the U.S. Girls crew leaned more into the home recordings idea. Instead, it’s given a slick sheen that doesn’t gel with the material. In the end, Bless This Mess is a collection of conflicting genres and production approaches that never has a chance for cohesion with too many cooks.