With their new album ‘Hit Reset’, The Julie Ruin, fronted by punk rock feminist extraordinaire Kathleen Hanna, strike an impressive balance between buoyant swells of sound and hard hitting, emotionally loaded lyrics.
Hanna’s lyrics are obviously deeply personal for her, and she sings them with an urgency which pushes certain songs to the brink of chaos. This is no bad thing, in ‘Mr. So and So’ she fires out spoken word verses, mocking common musings of faux-feminist male fans; ‘you played so good for a girl!’ In the titular song Hanna delves into some dark places, with lyrics such as ‘Slept with the lights on/on the floor/behind the chair that blocked the door’ referencing a difficult childhood. Hanna’s sharp vocals slice through the intense instrumental layers of the chorus, practically punching the line ‘at least I made it out at fucking all’ into the stratosphere.
However, as much as the lyrical content is deep and sometimes dark, there is a pervasive sense of fun throughout the whole album. Tracks such as ‘Planet You’, which opens like a synth pop ballad before kicking into a bright punk-pop delight, defy you not to dance to them. ‘Rather Not’ is an anti-romance song, which brightly rejects declarations of love, ‘I wish I’d never met you/I want you just to go./And if you really love me I guess I’d really rather not know.’ Tracks like these sometimes seem to contrast the lyrics but work incredibly well with Hanna’s chirping voice. The combination of light and dark throughout the album anchor ‘Hit Reset’ in a wonderfully accessible position, between extreme punk and frothy girl group.
‘Calverton’, the final song on ‘Hit Reset’, contrasts the effervescence of the previous tracks and brings the album to a surprisingly gentle end. It’s a beautifully unexpected melancholic ballad and it shines in a sea of punchy drumbeats. By using it to end the album, The Julie Ruin remind listeners of the emotional heart which beats throughout the album. This isn’t just noise, it has meaning.
The Julie Ruin’s Riot grrrl predecessors, including Hanna and bass player Kathi Wilcox’s pioneering 1990s band Bikini Kill, have obviously had a huge impact on the album. Whilst Hit Reset veers away from the more abrasive and manic style of 90s Riot grrrl punk rock, the continued use of lyrics which tackle difficult subjects, whilst empowering women, harks back to the early days of the movement. Hanna’s energy burns brightly through the album and her passion is evident.
The Julie Ruin hits the nail on the head with this album. ‘Hit Reset’ sits comfortably amongst the intense sounds of punk rock, the shimmer of synths and the twang of danceable instrumentals. Although die hard Riot grrrl fans might not encounter the same force as earlier manifestations of the movement, ‘Hit Reset’ has power in its own right, and shows that Kathleen Hanna is back, and she’s not afraid to get real.
This Julie Ruin article was written by Eleanor Kendrick-Jones, a GIGsoup contributor