Petrol Girls – ‘Talk Of Violence’

By Matthew Wilson

It begins with the sounds of protest. It ends with a phone recording of a refugee trying to translate the Kurdish for “sister and brother” into English. And all throughout, ‘Talk Of Violence’, the debut album from Petrol Girls, unflinchingly deals with the chaotic conflicts that occupy the world. Taking vast swipes at a wide variety of topics, from the co-opting of feminist movements on ‘Deflate’, to the hydra of oppressive neo-liberal globalisation in ‘Treading Water’, Petrol Girls have created an explosively righteous Molotov cocktail of a record.

Although the subject matter is political, Petrol Girls subscribe to Emma Goldman’s mantra of “if I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.” The music comes first, becoming catharsis that helps dispel the stigma surrounding these topics. It’s riffed on ‘Deflate’ by vocalist Ren Aldridge’s declaration of “if I can’t dance, then where is my release?” putting the party before the politics and revelling in the power of music to take on these subject matters in a brutally confrontational way.

‘Talk Of Violence’ is marked with euphoric catharsis. It’s in ‘Fang’s declaration that “finally, I’ve found my teeth”, in ‘Restless’s euphorically orgasmic revelry at the thought of smashing the state, and in ‘Touch Me Again’s’ determined declaration of “it’s my body, it’s my choice!” In a moment that provides the highlight of uncapped anger on an album devoted to violence, Aldridge skillfully turns the trauma of sexual assault on its head into a declaration of female autonomy, before reaching a devastating climax with a bellowed refrain of “touch me again and I’ll fucking kill you!” It’s a statement that doesn’t fail to resonate even after repeat listens, especially when placed in contrast with following track ‘Harpy’s assertion that “women in power get shouted down.”

Petrol Girls match their wide variety of subject matters with their creative musicality, building their songs on the backbones of ambitiously technical but immensely listenable riffs. Powered by drummer Zock’s acerbically elastic rhythms and Liepa Kuraite’s melodic basslines, songs like ‘Clay’ and ‘Phallocentric’ barrel along with powerfully creative rhythms. In Joe York’s riffs, mixing the angular simplicity of Fugazi with the aggressiveness of Propagandhi and War On Women, Petrol Girls fly punk’s flag alongside White Lung’s Kenneth Baker for a new generation of technically innovative guitarists.

Perhaps Petrol Girls’ greatest strength is that these songs sound democratic. Although Aldridge’s voice and lyrics give her prominence, ‘Talk Of Violence’ succeeds because it is so much more than the sum of its parts, most notably on ‘Treading Water’, where Aldridge and Zock’s lyrics intertwine amidst a backdrop of tightly orchestrated jaggy riffs, creating a shared lyrical narrative from two drastically different voices. ‘Talk Of Violence’ is as thoughtful as it is confrontational, as interested in building new relationships of human compassion as it is in tearing down systems of oppression, and as timely a release we could demand from a punk band in an age of increased political strife.

MATTHEW WILSON

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