Various Artists: Chilly Northern Women

Various Artists
Chilly Northern Women
Spinout Records

I can hear the radio spot now... A Jack Handey voice begins, "Ah, the sound of Duluth." Cue Low's "Over the Ocean." "From the cathedral calm of Low to the country cool of Father Hennepin, the music of Minnesota's scenic port town is peaceful, soothing, and--"

A record-needle scratch interrupts and a girlish voice screams: "We're not gonna take it anymore!" Flip to the Keep Aways' "Intimidated," a thrashy rocker with a hey-hey-hey chorus. "Duluth just isn't the same," the second voice continues. "Lots of women. Lots of punk bands. Lots of women in punk bands."

Or something. Yeah, I know, equating all North Country pop with Low's glacial loveliness is unfair to precision-noise specialists such as the Dames (see "Living Out Loud," October 30, 2002), even in an imaginary ad. And Low is one-third female, which makes the women-take-over pitch kinda silly.

But visitors to the hillside's new Pizza Lucé--sort of a Happy Days Al's Diner with sun-dried tomatoes--can't really miss the decidedly un-Lowly new wave of young, female-fronted one-two-fuck-you punk bands. These make up the best of a new compilation, Chilly Northern Women, which is put out by Duluth's Spinout Records and produced, I should say, by a friendly acquaintance of mine, Gild guitarist Tim Nelson.

On that last point, I do feel sheepish complaining that Tim's wah-wah distracts from singer Jennifer Jones on the otherwise irresistible Gild contribution, "Firefly." But my sympathy for Duluth, its musicians, and its women shouldn't be confused with uncritical advertisement for the scene--not when I can identify a podge for every hodge in this hodgepodge.

Heidi Bakk-Hansen's "A Song to You" annoys as poetry even as it entertains as exhibitionism. (It's a spoken-word ode to the way her "nipple feels between your teeth," among other things.) Token Minneapolitans the Psychedelicates ignore the indie-rock moratorium on Chevy Nova references. And the all-female Horribles, the only punk disappointment, find nothing new to say about the time-and-dick-honored subject of promiscuous girls.

But other bands put you in a forgiving mood. Apparently sequenced so as not to scare off the Lilith Fair sex, Chilly gets a Here's my beef infusion halfway through, with hardcore growlers Jackie and the Ripoffs. Then come two distinct punk voices: Kill Conformity's quavering Angela Lindberg and Shimmy's deadpan Margaret Megg. Both singers share a certain quality--a rare combination of unshowy strength and everywoman wobble--with Amy Abts and Sara Softich, two of the more gifted (and countrified) performers on the album. It doesn't define a sound, exactly, but it's as Duluthian as freezing your face off.

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