Kathleen Hanna, musician, feminist activist, and a figure formative to who I am today has consistently churned out pithy punk tunes while creating space for women and combatting misogyny in the punk community (and beyond). After a three year hiatus, during which Hanna dealt with her long-standing struggle with Lyme disease, her current group The Julie Ruin released their second full studio album Hit Reset. The album as a whole is an incredible revival and expansion of Hanna’s traditional riot grrrl sounds, with her do-it-yourself punk aesthetic alive and well in its framework. The album sets itself apart from The Julie Ruin’s previous release, Run Fast, in that Hanna’s powerful lyrics are more confrontational and cuttingly personal than before.
Hanna kicks off the album with a sharp title track recalling trauma she endured in her youth because of her father. She sings, “Slept with the lights on on the floor, behind a chair that blocked the door… At least I made it out at fucking all.” This powerful song that mixes sweet and scream-y vocals with ripping guitar and steady punk drums sets the tone for the album, giving the listener a taste of Hanna’s raw lyrical tendencies and varied yet consistently charged feminist punk sound. Later in the album, Hanna sings about childhood wishes stunted by her father’s neglect on “Roses More Than Water”. The track displays chaotic vocals with beach-y organ, and orderly drum and guitar rhythms. Hanna chants, “maybe I want roses more than water and to be a loving father’s daughter” and “maybe I’m more hell-bent on living than I am just surviving,” showing her working through traumas and personal experiences.
The discordant “I Decide” rings out with siren-like electric keyboard, a pulsing drumbeat, and a handful of “Na-na-na-na-na’s” amidst lyrics that exude Hanna’s assertion of her self-autonomy. “I Decide” is followed by “Be Nice”, which addresses the emotional labor women are expected to perform in a patriarchal society. Hanna highlights the fact that women are socialized to “be nice” in response to male micro-aggressions and entitlement through her pithy, spitting lyrics. Later in the album, she confronts male feminists’ hypocrisy in “Mr. So and So,” calling out pseudo-feminist men who use their privilege to take up space in feminist circles and offer condescending, patronizing remarks to women. The chorus rings “you can’t say good-bye before I get my hello,” commenting on the silencing of women within feminist communities at the hands of entitled men.
As an outspoken feminist musician and riot grrrl movement icon, Hanna has had her trauma and activism commoditized, which she addresses in “Planet You” and “Hello Trust No One,” in which she confronts toxic people who exploit her emotional labor and set expectations for her performance of self. In “Hello Trust No One”, pop keyboard and bouncy drums accompany Hanna’s staccato vocals projecting satirical lyrics. She sings “cause I can play one-handed guitar while braining my hair on a shooting star!” and “Cause I can play electric guitar while shaving my legs in a moving car!” mockingly addressing the absurd expectations she is met with as a feminist performer and figurehead.
“Let Me Go” greets you with fun poppy keyboard and playful guitar riffs accompanied by rhythmic claps. Hanna sings about her husband’s encouragement that kept her head above water while battling Lyme disease. She sings, “you never, ever really know how many memories you have to go.” With the rock-pop vibes that are mirrored in “Time is Up” later in the album, The Julie Ruin shows their versatility and coherence all while creating incredible tunes. The album ends with a ballad to Hanna’s mother, titled “Calverton” after the Maryland town in which Hanna grew up. Her offbeat vocals are accompanied by a soft and slow keyboard rhythm, setting the tone of the song to be a touching and tender message of appreciative reflection. Hanna has noted that her mother has inspired and drove her forward. She sings, “Without you, I’d take the fifth or be on my deathbed full of wishes”.
The Julie Ruin is playing in Montreal this Tuesday at Fairmount Theatre, and until then I’ll be dancing around my room to Hanna’s music like I used to in high school. Hit Reset will definitely be my Summer 2016 soundtrack and is truly a testament not only to Kathleen Hanna’s resilience, but also to The Julie Ruin’s musical prowess as a whole.
– Review by Erika Kindsfather