This Is Distance More Than Miles


Once upon a time when punk rock was new, the few female performers that made an impact on the scene were often caricatures: Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics comes immediately to mind, better known for her exploitation and distortion of her sexuality than for her group’s music. More modern examples like Cinder Block of Tilt and Brodie Armstrong (as with the circle of female performers that drifted in and out of her band, the Distillers, over the acts first several years of operation) have put themselves in a similar position as that damaged legend: simultaneously putting their sexuality at the fore and downplaying it by taking on affectations of their male counterparts when it comes to dress, hairstyle, tattooing, and vocal performance. The result is equal parts sex kitten and violence. Others like Hayley Williams of pop-punk upstarts Paramore and Jemina Pearl of Be Your Own Pet play up their cuteness without shame, likely more as a marketing tool than anything. Others distinguished themselves by operating within a punk scene but not really playing the music (Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, Blondie, Chrissie Hynde). Different set of expectations, I suppose.

No matter what era or ethos, it becomes difficult to find prominent female punk rockers that exist within the confines of a group without defining it; most of the above-mentioned groups are known mostly as “chick groups” and are to some extent segregated from it.

About six or seven years ago I was attending the annual CJTR Music Garage Sale, a fundraiser put on in the summer by my community radio station. CD’s for five dollars, LP’s for $1-$2, and thousands upon thousands of pieces to leaf through. This summer I came across an album called, Half Fiction by a female-fronted group called Discount. They are one of a plethora of late-90’s/00’s Floridian punk rock bands influenced in equal parts by the Descendents, Husker Du, and first-wave emo. Performance-wise, they lean heavily in the pop-punk portion of that influence, their songs typically rapid-fire paced with thick, buzzing power chords. They released numerous 7”s on a vast number of labels, as well as three proper full-length records.

But Half Fiction definitely stands out. Their most vital and urgent record laments the life of a directionless early-20’s year-old, the frustrations of a dead-end job and a society that just doesn’t work. Personal tales about being repulsed by the actions of a lover and extreme social anxiety provide a window into the mind of singer/songwriter Allison Mosshart (who now plays in blues-rock dirty duo the Kills). It’s a highly relatable song cycle with only one less-than-perfect number towards the end of the album. While the band was together, Mosshart actively attempted to deflect the usual stereotypes and reactions that come with female-fronted punk rock groups by dressing and cutting her hair in – frankly – very mannish fashions. The band dynamic is very unified; it’s clearly not a star vehicle for the woman at the mic.

Both Discount and Half Fiction were very much on my mind a few weeks ago when I received my copy of Get Better, the first proper full-length album from Buffalo, New York’s Lemuria. Released on the Asian Man record label, it was a cold buy for me. I’d never heard a note of the band’s previous works, having only heard good things about them from fellow music enthusiasts.

Upon first listen, I was a little perplexed. There’s just something a tiny bit off about the group’s songwriting, at the same time straight-forward but subtly quirky. Repeat listens gave me the distinct impression that Lemuria comes off on this record a lot like Discount, only somewhat sedated (and with male vocals). The songs are impossibly cute, especially “Lipstick,” in which singer/guitarist Sheena Ozzella laments on the some-times unfortunate preferences her girlfriend has for kissing/not kissing her. “Yesterday’s Lunch” is an insightful number about how people always think they haven’t got enough until they’ve gotten too much.

Rock music is obsessed with star power and the idea of a front(wo)man being the lightning rod for whatever attention is given to a band. On Get Better Lemuria show a wealth of potential and an incredible depth of songwriting for a young band. It would be a shame if their career went as unnoticed as Discount’s did, gaining notoriety and acclaim only once they’re gone. The fact that their lead singer has girl parts isn’t their biggest selling point.

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