When I reviewed Murder for Girls’ last LP, All The Pretty Stars, for the SWPA-based zine Punksburgh back in 2017, I cited as the group’s forebears and immediate influences Babes In Toyland and Riot Grrrls like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. But on the Pittsburgh quartet’s new LP — Done In The Dark, out on CD and in forms digital next month — it reaches back in time even further for its points of reference, cutting the blow of its 90s alt-rock with Ramones buzz swagger and a Runaways bounce that’s as addictive as crystal meth. In nine songs that leave you itching for more, the group serves up a mélange of deceptively perky, guitar-driven pop-punk in the more classic senses of the word – and, for the right person, it is, indeed, bubblegum worth swallowing.
The record starts with the infectious “Honeycomb” and a rather enticing conceit: a burbling and driving bass refrain that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early 80s song by The Fall. But then the real stars enter, singers Tammy, Michele and Steph. Tammy has that Courtney Love-refined knack of undercutting her sometimes-adenoidal refrains with an inviting matter-of-factness and baby-doll anti-snarl. She struts her stuff, stretching monosyllabic words over multiple measures, while somehow managing to make you feel a little self-conscious about copping a glare. But what Murder for Girls really does masterfully on the new record is take its loose, sometimes jangly (and often undistorted) guitar refrains and turn them, often by way of vocal-harmony osmosis, into killer melodies. It’s no mistake – and well worth noting – that this LP was recorded by Tommy Stinson, he of Replacements fame. A song like “Goth Girls” is playful, silly even, and tracks like “Fallen” and “Broken” flash a beguiling naivete; what sticks with you, though, isn’t the recording of the electric guitar or the thud of a kick drum but the essence of the record’s headlight-evident earworms.
There are standouts. “Run,” with its Blackhearts rhythm section, is about as high-octane as the LP gets but there’s no lack of blood-pumping moments. Tracks like the hooky “Exposure” or “Semiautomatic,” with its lunging verses and pristine backing vox, are worth revisiting. But don’t think for a second that Murder for Girls is after the glossy lure of girl-band charm and posture. The closing song, “Patchouli,” a real piece of dirty grunge with lurching bass, features a performance from Michele that’s wonderful counterintuitive. “I wanna tell you/ anytime you want it/ you cannot have it,” she spits, the delivery sweet but the sentiment acid-sour. “I want you to tell you/ I see your ugly face/ I wanna smash it.” It’s an interesting closing, a sight, perhaps, of things to come. It’s also a prescient reminder: yeah, this tastes like bubblegum – but it’s got a hell of a bite.