Quirking Girls

(Ma) Trix of the Trade

It's still Guyville, we're just living in it. Re: Liz Phair, I can see why indie boys are mourning that notion of feminist progress symbolized by Phair's brand of major-label quirk. But c'mon, girls—where her bitches at? In trying out radio-rock (and making cheesecake bids for mainstream hot), Liz is just being honest—about the fact that for us, the world of "quirk" can be as full of shit (and compromise) as the Matrix. Anyway, I must have eaten the wrong pill, 'cause to me, "Extraordinary" is a self-love "Supernova," "Why Can't I" a sleepover anthem, "Hot White Cum" a girl's-room giggle over Mom's Cosmo.

'Course, when Liz imagines her son's confusion about her boyfriends on "Little Digger," we're nearing Amy Rigby territory: the realm of real-ass quirk. Onetime Williamsburg housewife, now off-off-Opry single mom and perennial middlescent, Rigby's Til the Wheels Fall Off(a vehicular kindred spirit to raw-rocking Brit Sally Crewe's Drive It Like You Stole It) is yet another batch of cover-ready country-pop too catchy for her own renderings and too smart for Nashville. Rigby's still raunchy for her age too, musing on "Shopping Around" that "I'm getting older/I'm getting wiser/But am I getting laid?" On "Why Do I?" she regrets "always giving in/to my evil twin," who may be advising her on "The Deal," a Carpenters vamp about striking a commitment-free sex bargain. Strings and vibes underscore "How People Are"'s relationship anxiety, and on the slow Wurlitzer-and-wah-wah "Even the Weak Survive," she coaches the brokenhearted, "A good rule of thumb/Count to five/(hundred and five)." "Don't Ever Change" maps the distance she feels from her daughter's teenage headphone world, and in the Pretenders-y "Last Request," she voices the flipside of Mountain Goats' "I hope I lie/And tell everyone you were a good wife," imploring, "Could you please pretend/that you loved me until the end?" That's quirk, my friends, and it's no Fader photo shoot.

Finding Rigby-esque resonance in hometown squalor and Les Paul squall, Wide Right's Buffalo-gal (now Brooklynite) mommy-rocker Leah Archibald cranks out big-guitar screamers about active-verb identity: shoveling your car out of the snow ("Rust Belt Girl"), checking out religious statuary ("Mary on the Half Shell"), and confronting hipsters who want her cool little hangout for their Ketel One cocktail spot ("Expensive"). With a voice that swings from Astbury to Jett, the adorable Archibald summons a storm on the stop chorus of the I'm-outta-here rager "Pete Best," and still essays nuanced topics like friendship-without-label ("If I weren't married and you weren't gay/ We'll just have to find another way") and a rock-n-roll road trip complete with parenting ("The kids will sleep for the whole time/ grownup music for the enti-yer ride!"). Evoking nostalgia for that "Fireman's Fair," where we'd "hang out in the beer tent" and win some goldfish, she leaves no doubt that we really can't go back. For some of us, forward means quirking out at Southpaw. For others it means engaging the Matrix.

 
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