raincoats

The long-term musical effects of being involved in ’90s “riot grrrl” culture are heavily laden with the past. As I start to meander through my 30’s, proto-riot girl jams have infiltrated my audiophile mind more than any band I was actually there for. I mean, how often do I listen to my Bikini Kill records anymore? Once, twice a year maybe . . . I suppose that part of the aging process is better appreciating what came before, and putting the shit that you held so close to your heart during the coming-of-age years away for next generations to discover.

All digression aside: by way of punk rock feminism, I was at a tender age exposed to the multitude of (mostly British) women-led post-punk bands of the 1970/80s. A long line of bands became my obsession: The Slits, Au Pairs, Liliput, Delta 5, Maximum Joy . . . but it was the first self-titled record by The Raincoats—championed by everyone from Kurt Cobain to Kathleen Hanna to Thurston Moore—that remains one of my absolute favorites. It is 100% the most provocative post-girl group album . . . in my mind at least, even more influential than the Slits’ Cut. And like most people, the first time I heard it, I thought it was a total mess: a totally fucking glorious mess of epic proportions.

The Raincoats was released in 1979, and was a lot more pure in its “fuck the system” statements than, say, the first Sex Pistols record. DIY ethics were espoused via “out with proper musicianship” attitudes and freeform playing, minimalist sounds, weird folk elements, heavy grooves, and an overall feel of chaotic freedom. Four women—Ana de Silva (vox/guitar/keys), Gina Birch (vox/bass), Vicky Aspinall (violin), and then-Slit Palmolive (drums)—effortlessly balanced the fine lines between dissonance and dreaminess. They also perfected the art of lowbrow lofi harmonies like no other. Plus, a tiny veritable who’s who of guests join in: Lara Logic of X-Ray Spex and Essential Logic plays sax on “Black and White,” and legendary oddball Mayo Thompson takes production credits.

“Lola” (yes, that “Lola”—thanks Mr. Davies!) is the song that the Raincoats are most famous for, which is a fairly grand off-kilter gender reversal of an already “gender weird” song. This cover is magnificent, but my two favorite songs on the album run on opposite ends of the spectrum.  “The Void” is a quietly disturbing, melancholic folk-punk jam whose lyrics have haunted me for years (“When I looked at the streets/ and when you were talking/ when I tried to think/ when I tried to think/ the void the void” . . .why I find that so horrible and sad, I’ll never know).  Whereas “No Side to Fall In” is basically the most chipper avant-garde/posi anthem ever made by a band devoid of youth crew antics. Meanwhile, “You’re A Million” has pretty much been the soundtrack to every shitty breakup I’ve ever experienced; at its base, it’s the most gentle “fuck you” homage (“This is for you as my lover was for nobody/ You’re a million and I’ve loved you/ You’re a million and I’m yours/ We’re a million to come/ We’re a million to go” —aargh!) among a mutated background of noisy babble and plucking.

So what did this record truly do for me? My younger self would kick my current self’s ass for this, but it taught me a lot more about “girl power” than most of the confrontational drama of my younger “smash patriarchy/slut” world. Lead with your softest step, roll with the imperfections, be weird freely, always critique the dominant paradigms, chill the fuck out, etc.

— Melissa Geils

The Raincoats: The Raincoats (1979)
1. Fairytale In the Supermarket
2. No Side to Fall In
3. Adventures Close to Home
4. Off Duty Trip
5. Black and White
6. Lola
7. The Void
8. Life on the Line
9. You’re a Million
10. In Love
11. No Looking

We’re a million to go . . .
UPDATE: This album has been reissued by Kill Rock Stars. Buy it here.

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