First printed in 13thfloor.co.nz
The first time I heard the title track, Hit Reset, I had to check the box. I thought I’d stumbled across an unpublished collection by Japan’s Shonen Knife, perhaps recording with Brazil’s CSS under the direction of Julian Hatfield or Kim Deal. I wasn’t too far of the mark. The Julie Ruin is actually the four-piece vehicle of Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of 90’s punksters Bikini Kill and electro-punk group Le Tigre. Hanna was something of a Riot Grrrl role model and poster person for the cause. Then due to media pressures, tour fatigue and late stage Lyme disease, an infectious bacterial disease caused by Borrella bacteria spread by tick bites, she pretty much dropped out of sight.
You may have seen Hanna in the 2013 film The Punk Singer, a detailed documentary that acknowledged her contribution to music. It also featured her solo effort Julie Ruin, which Hanna made principally in her apartment in Olympia, Washington with future Le Tigre bandmates Sadie Benning and Johanna Fateman. It touches upon feminism, crocheting, aerobics and resisting police abuse – all the usual Riot Grrrl topics. When she returned to music proper it was with a band by that name, releasing Run Fast as their debut. And her voice and presence was still as shocking and unsettling as it was when she first started out. Hit Reset isn’t any kind of rethink. It’s more like a continuation of the plan, this time with more fury and fun than the tenser first outing.
The album opener is all awkward tension and attitude, mixing up relationships with life’s potency to self-implode without warning. It grinds away at societal norms and recommends how to crash them at any opportunity. Typical punk fodder with a smoother backbone. It’s a snotty nosed brat of a song, declaring exactly where the axe will be falling on this one, baby!
I Decide has some nice hidden references to a myriad of 80’s digital synth bands like Visage tucked under a very cool digi-drone and an even cooled pile of grunge guitars. Then you get the opposite on Be Nice, which hovers very closely to early Sonic Youth. It’s just like their legacy EVOL, perfect songs, artfully destroyed with jagged feedback, smudged amps and distorted lyrics. Rather Not is a pure saccharine high school crush demo, probably best left off and a bit of a letdown after the preceding stuff. As is the very Japanese-pop stylings of Let Me Go. Cheesy, twanging strumming and 2 chord changes held together with sticky tape and tambourines. It sounds as amateur and professionally lo-fi as possible. Actually, if CSS’s LoveFoxx ever makes a solo album it could sound like this.
Then, midway, the album takes a turn into cleaner, hook laden pop territory. Let Me Go is packed full of tricks like waa-waa fuzz pedals, 60’s psychedelic keyboards and indie drumming motifs (think early La’s and Charlatans). And songs like Planet You, which also has vocals by keyboardist Kenny Mellman, has definite punch sealing this as a youthful, energetic and gleeful affair even when the songs tackle difficult topics. They’re never too heavy or depressing, more like a sarcasm like on Mr So and So, where she’s making fun of male pseudo-fans in the fast, spoken verses of bile and rhetoric jest and dark humour. It seems maturity suits this punk madam. Middle age doesn’t have to all be about a nice house in the suburbs and picket fences. You can still have a good laugh while you kick against the pricks!